Mount St. Joseph masters No. 1 St. Frances for MIAA A basketball championship; Edokpayi scores 21
2019-20 MIAA A CONFERENCE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS
MOUNT ST. JOSEPH GAELS
by Derek Toney
In a season dominated by St. Frances Academy and Poly High in Baltimore City boys basketball, Mount St. Joseph has been in the background. Despite holding the area’s No. 1 ranking during the season, the Gaels have been the forgotten third wheel to the Panthers and Poly’s battle for national status.
That’s fine with the Gaels, who made a triumphant return to the championship threshold Sunday evening. No. 3 Mount St. Joseph defeated top-ranked St. Frances, 76-63, in the MIAA A Conference final in front of nearly 1,900 at APGFCU Arena in Bel Air.
Senior forward Jason Edokpayi scored 21 points for the Gaels (27-5 overall), and Tyler Brelsford and junior D’Angelo Stines finished with 16. Junior guard Ausar Crawley also added 16.
The Irvington school led by as many as 17 points against the Panthers, ranked No. 6 nationally by ESPN. On Valentine’s Night, the Gaels were heartbroken after a blowing a 13-point lead in the final five minutes of regulation in a 73-69 loss to the Panthers in East Baltimore.
Sunday, Mount St. Joseph won its league-best sixth championship.
“No disrespect to St. Frances and Poly, but Mount St. Joseph basketball has been around for quite awhile,” said longtime Gaels’ coach Pat Clatchey, whose team last won the crown in 2017.
“They can have the whole Poly-St. Frances beef, we won the championship,” said Edokpayi. “St. Frances didn’t.”
The Southwest Baltimore squad denied the Panthers a second straight league title, following the same script it followed in a 62-53 victory last month inside the Smith Center – ball movement, efficient shooting and limiting turnovers.
The Gaels did the same for nearly 28 minutes in the rematch at Phelps Gym, but a couple of miscues and a lot of Adrian Baldwin equaled disaster. Baldwin scored 13 of his 18 points in the last five minutes.
Baldwin, the reigning VSN Player of the Year, had a game-high 25 points Sunday. This time, however, there would be no late heroics.
The Gaels received several clutch efforts Sunday as Edokpayi was dominant again on both ends and junior Sean Carr did yeoman’s work in the paint. The backcourt consortium of Crawley, Stines, Antonio Hamlin and Brelsford maintained against St. Frances’ pressure.
“We told our guys today we’re going to find a way to get it done,” said Clatchey, whose team lost to St. Frances in last year’s final.
“We just wanted it way more,” said Brelsford. “We were up big in the fourth quarter so we knew not to turn the ball over, execute and make free throws.”
Brelsford put the Gaels up 54-38 with a 4-point play following two missed technical foul free throws late in the third. He opened the fourth with a score, extending Mount St. Joseph’s advantage to 60-42, but St. Frances would storm back.
The Panthers pulled to 64-58 with 3 minutes, 22 seconds to play after Jamal West (12 points) got a Baldwin miss and scored. Stines got the ensuing inbounds, sped past St. Frances’ defense right to the basket for a layup.
“We made an emphasis to take care of the ball at the end of game,” said Stines.
After St. Frances came up empty on a couple of possessions, Crawley drove in for a score, putting the Gaels up, 68-58, with 1:52 left in regulation. Brelsford, who drained a 3-pointer from the corner for the earlier 4-point play special, found an opening at the top of the circle and dropped a dagger, making 71-59 with 1:13 to play.
Brelsford, a lefty marksman headed to George Washington University, carries a shooter’s mentality.
“The way you can make a shot is if you shoot it,” Brelsford said. “I was always taught that if you don’t make a shot, the next one is going to fall.”
Brelsford’s first trifecta in the first quarter gave St. Joe a lead it wouldn’t relinquished, followed by a 3-point play from Edokpayi. The 6-foot-6 forward and Crawley each had a basket and 3-pointer to end the quarter as the Gaels led 21-7.
The Fairfield University recruit, who was named the Baltimore Catholic League’s Most Improved Player, said the fast start – and strong finish – was key.
“This is all we’ve been talking about last month,” said Edokpayi. “We knew we had a good fourth quarter if we wanted to win this game.”
It was 26-9 as Crawley beat the shot clock with a dagger. St. Frances trimmed the deficit to 34-25 at half, and was at 36-30 early in the third after a basket from Baldwin.
St. Joe’s didn’t blink. Stines scored and Edokpayi converted a 3-point play, pushing the lead back into double digits.
St. Frances was within nine, 61-52, after a 3-pointer from Khyrie Staten, but Carr picked up a loose ball off a St. Joe miss and scored. The Panthers got it to a two-possession game at 64-58 after West’s basket, but, after a St. Frances timeout, Stines took the ball down the court and scored.
Minus Baldwin’s late heroics in the prior match, St. Frances, boasting an area-best 35 wins, has been outplayed by the Gaels this season.
It’s been a conundrum for St. Frances coach Nick Myles.
“It’s something we got to figure it out as a group,” said Myles. “Basketball is not a complicated game. If you move the ball and make shots, you have success. We don’t make shots against them. Why I don’t know, but now, we have to move on and focus on Calvert Hall.”
The Panthers and Gaels may have a fourth meeting next Sunday afternoon in the Baltimore Catholic League Tournament final. St. Frances, the top seed, hosts Calvert Hall College in a quarterfinal Wednesday evening while Mount St. Joseph welcomes St. Maria Goretti to Smith Center.
The Gaels are excited to bring a MIAA A championship back to Irvington after a couple of disappointing losses during the regular season.
“A lot of these games we’ve played in we lost and it’s been weighing heavily in our minds,” said Crawley. We know St. Frances is a tough team, but we’re tough too and going to come at them. We feel we’re one of the best teams in the city and we proved it today.”
MIAA A CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP
AT APGFCU ARENA
No. 3 Mount St. Joseph 76, No. 1 St. Frances Academy 63
Mount St. Joseph – Edokpayi 21, Brelsford 16, Crawley 16, Stines 16, Hamlin 3, Carr 2, Sykes 2. Totals 27 15-21 76.
St. Frances – Baldwin 25, West 12, Curtis 8, Staten 8, Reese 6, Ireland 4. Totals 20 16-21 63.
Mount St. Joseph 21 13 24 18 – 76
St. Frances 7 18 17 21 – 63