Panthers blitz No. 3 Mount St. Joseph in second half, claim MIAA A basketball championship; West and Baldwin combine for 51 (GAME BROADCAST/POSTGAME INTERVIEWS HERE!)

by Derek Toney

St. Frances Academy boys basketball team knows it didn’t play its best against Mount St. Joseph during the regular season. The Gaels mastered the Panthers in energy, execution and, most importantly, effort in claiming a sweep. But when those boxes are checked for St. Frances, few teams can compete.

Sunday, St. Frances brought a marker to Harford Community College. The fourth-ranked Panthers handled No. 3 Mount St. Joseph, 77-61, to win the MIAA A Conference championship in front of nearly 2,000 at APGFCU Arena.

Junior guard Adrian Baldwin had 28 points and six assists for St. Frances (32-5 overall), and Jamal West added a double-double of 23 points and 11 rebounds. James Bishop tied for game-high honors with 28 points for Mount St. Joseph (27-7), and Ausar Crawley finished with 11.

The Panthers dominated their Irvington rivals over the final 15 minutes of regulation, claiming its first league title since 2016 and fifth overall. The East Baltimore school atoned for a 66-63 loss to the Gaels at Smith Center last weekend and a 77-63 home setback in late December.

After a stunning exit in last year’s MIAA A playoffs (lost to Boys’ Latin School in semifinals), St. Frances won its three postseason decisions by an average of 30 points.

“We said that didn’t mean nothing,” said Baldwin, “only thing that counts is the championship game.”

“The captain said the only thing that matters is the playoffs and time to get focused,” said Myles. “This three game run has been the best basketball we’ve played all year. It’s been about defense, staying together and picking up your man when he’s down.”

No one probably felt as worse as West in the Panthers’ locker room after last weekend’s loss at Mount St. Joseph. The 6-foot-5 Dunbar transfer had just five points. He rebounded with a career-best 41 points in St. Frances’ 106-42 rout of Annapolis Area Christian in Tuesday’s quarterfinal.

West was nearly unstoppable in the second half Sunday, scoring 18 points. He easily beat Gael defenders with his quickness and agility.

“Coach Nick [Myles] said keep going at them until they stop it and they didn’t,” said Baldwin.

“I disappointed a lot of people,” said West of his prior effort against Mount St. Joseph. “I had to be a spark and my teammates had my back.”

It wasn’t NBA Hall of Fame teammates John Stockton and Karl Malone doing the pick-and-roll, but West and Baldwin played an effective two-man game in the second half Sunday. West constantly shedded his defender and Baldwin got him the ball.

“Before I came to this school, it was like ‘I want to play with ‘Ace’ bad,’” said West. “I want to play with a good point guard, a pass-first point guard and he wants to get those 10 assists, get that double-double in points and assists or rebounds.”

“It took us awhile to come together,” said Baldwin. “He’s a great player and love playing with him.”

West and Baldwin combined for 33 points in a second half that saw St. Frances outscored St. Joe, 46-23, over the final 15 minutes of regulation. Trailing 38-30 early in the third quarter, St. Frances gained its first lead since the middle portion of the first quarter on Baldwin’s 3-pointer with 1 minute, 55 seconds left in the third period.

After Bishop dropped a jumper, regaining the lead for St. Joe, West broke free for a dunk and Baldwin fed him for another score in the paint. Bishop answered again, this time with a 3-point dagger, tying the game. Baldwin drained a 3-pointer with two seconds left, giving St. Frances a 51-48 advantage.

The Panthers never trailed again. Baldwin, who had 17 points in the second half, blew past a St. Joe defender for a layup, capping a 9-0 surge and 57-48 advantage.

“He wants to play the top guy. He wants the ball at the end of games. If he misses a shot and we lose, he’ll take the burden on his shoulders,” said Myles of Baldwin. “He’s an alpha dog. He played a great game tonight.”

Baldwin and Bishop, arguably the area’s two best players, went against each other in the opening half. Bishop had 15, including two free throws at the end of the half, giving the Gaels a 34-28 halftime lead.

Mount St. Joseph also led at halftime in the two regular season matches. Bishop’s layup off a steal and pass from Crawley gave the Gaels a 38-30 lead early in the third quarter.

Then Baldwin and West took over. After a Baldwin basket, West’s dunk and 3-point play, brought St. Frances to within 38-37 midway in the third.

Baldwin, the reigning Baltimore Catholic League Tournament MVP and runner-up to Bishop for BCL Player of the Year honors, put St. Frances up 44-43 late in the third. He put the Panthers’ faithful into a frenzy with his quarter-ending dagger.

“When one person turn up, we all turn up,” said West. “We’re going off the hot hand.”

While the Panthers sizzled, Mount St. Joseph fizzled offensively and couldn’t derail St. Frances’ offense. The Southwest Baltimore school got no closer than seven points in the fourth quarter as St. Frances’ Chad Brown limited Bishop to just two baskets in the final eight minutes.

“St. Frances is very athletic and have multiple guys who can score,” said Gaels coach Pat Clatchey, whose team was denied its first MIAA A title since 2017. “We struggled to score and West started getting loose inside. We had some good shots, but when you have empty trips, it becomes frustrating.”

The Gaels will look to regroup in the 48th BCL Tournament which starts Wednesday. Mount St. Joseph, the No. 3 seed, hosts sixth-seeded Archbishop Spalding in a quarterfinal. The Gaels lost to St. Frances in last year’s tourney final.

The Panthers have Mount Carmel Wednesday at Phelps Gym to begin their title defense. St. Frances will try to become the first back-to-back BCL tourney champ since Mount St. Joseph’s run of three straight from 2012 to 2014.

“You really can’t celebrate,” said Myles. “We got to get the same focus, the same energy because we’re the hunted.”

MIAA A Conference basketball championship

at APGFCU Arena, Harford Community College

No. 4 St. Frances Academy 77, No. 3 Mount St. Joseph 61

St. Frances – Baldwin 28, Jones 4, Murphy 4, West 23, Toles 10, Brown 4, Staten 4. Totals: 25 23-28 77.

Mount St. Joseph – Crawley 11, Bishop 28, Brelsford 2, Sykes 2, Brown 2, Hamlin 10, Chairs 4, Carr 2. Totals  23 12-16 61.

St. Frances 9 19 23 26 – 77

Mount St. Joseph 15 19 14 13 – 61