It’s one thing to build an early lead against a tough opponent deep in the playoffs.
It’s something else to never fall behind for one second of the game without so much as a hiccup.
Yet that’s what No. 1 overall playoff seed St. Paul’s School did on Thursday while eliminating 19th-ranked Severn School from the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference playoffs in a 65-57 wire-to-wire victory in Brooklandville.
The Crusaders (18-8 overall) used senior guard Michael Ward’s 3-pointer on their first possession to jump out front and then never trailed the rest of the way while the Admirals (18-10) tried in vain to catch up.
With the win, St. Paul’s advances to the MIAA B Conference championship game on Tuesday at Gilman at 7 p.m. against Annapolis Area Christian School, which topped St. Mary’s, 80-54, in the other semifinal.
A.J. Sawyers (18 points), Trayon Wright (15), Ziggy Reid (13) and Michael Ward (10) led a balanced scoring attack for the Crusaders while junior guard/forward L.J. Owens paced the Admirals (18-10, 10-4) with a game-high 26 points and sophomore teammate A.J. Burch pitched in 12 points.
St. Paul’s sophomore forward Troy Barthelme came off the bench to score seven points and yank down nine rebounds, to match Reid’s effort on the boards.
Sawyers’ old-school 3-point play with just under six minutes remaining in the opening period snapped a 3-3 tie to give the Crusaders a lead that would grow to 10 points by the end of the first quarter, which was cut to five points on a buzzer-beating layup by Owens at halftime.
However, Severn would never get closer than four points in the second half.
“As a team, we just came out slow,” Owens said. “We kept chipping away, but we could never get over the hump. We had a good year but the ultimate success, obviously, is a championship. And we didn’t do that.”
It was just one of those games for Severn, one of only two conference teams — Archbishop Curley was the other — to beat St. Paul’s this season.
After a 3-pointer by Burch shaved the deficit to 25-21 early in the third quarter, the Crusaders went on a 13-4 run on a Sawyers’ hoop-and-harm, a jumper by Wright in the paint, a pair of free throws by junior forward Taylor Smothers, a baby hook by Sawyers and a Bartthelme stick-back for a 38-25 advantage.
It was tough sledding after that for Severn, although the Admirals did manage to pull within 52-46 late in the contest when junior guard Jermaine Hall hit a severe-angle shot from the baseline and converted the ensuing free throw.
However, when forced to the foul line late in the fourth quarter, the Crusaders made 10-of-14 from the stripe during one stretch to put a damper on any serious Severn comeback hopes.
“It was a big team effort,” Sawyers said. “We all worked together. From the last game, we needed this win, and it all worked out.”
St. Paul’s coach Seth Goldberg said that he knew the Admirals would not go out quietly.
“Our guys did a great job of staying together,” he said. “Every time they’d make a run, we’d make a tough play, whether it be a rebound, dive or charge attempt. We really just tried to stay together.”
As for advancing for a chance to claim the program’s first crown since 2014, Goldberg said his team does not worry about which opponent it would face.
“Not to take anything away from the other teams, but we focus on ourselves, and we’re excited to be there,” he added. “Our ultimate goal is to be playing our best basketball at the end, and I think we’re headed in that direction.”
In Thursday’s other B Conference semifinal, 17th-ranked Annapolis Area Christian School (19-7) earned its third consecutive trip to the final, as Kori Rawlings scored 20 in the victory over St. Mary’s.
Brandon Joseph also had a big night, producing a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. It was the 10th consecutive win for the Eagles, who lost to St. John’s Catholic Prep in overtime in the title game last year, and fell to St. Paul’s in the 2015 championship match.
Josh Wallace of St. Mary’s (11-18) led all scorers with 27 points. The Saints also got 14 points from Aaron McGriff.
MIAA B CONFERENCE BASKETBALL SEMIFINALS
ST. PAUL’S SCHOOL 65, NO. 19 SEVERN SCHOOL 57
SEVERN 7 11 16 23 — 57
ST. PAUL’S 17 6 18 24 — 65
SEVERN SCHOOL: L.J. Owens 26, A.J. Burch 12, Owura Burko 8, Jermaine Hall 5, Kendall Harmon 5, Mackenzie Holston 3, Jacob Lally 2. TOTALS: 19 17-25 72.
ST. PAUL’S SCHOOL: A.J. Sawyers 18, Trayon Wright 15, Ziggy Reid 13, Michael Ward 10, Troy Barthelme 7, Taylor Smothers 2. TOTALS: 21 20-28 65.
NO. 17 ANNAPOLIS AREA CHRISTIAN 80, ST. MARY’S 54
ST. MARY’S: Wallace 27, McGriff 14, Ferraro 4, Brown 6, Burnett 2, Feeley 1. TOTALS: 20 8-10 54.
AACS: Rawling 20, Williams 5, Borden 9, Joseph 17, Heckert 2, Clark 5, Celcis 10, J. Johnson 9, R. Johnson 1, Gill 2. TOTALS: 30 15-21 80.