Host St. Paul’s went on a 22-2 second half run, Wednesday night in Brooklandville, turning a seven-point deficit into a 13-point lead before withstanding a closing flurry by No. 19 Annapolis Area Christian and holding on for a 61-59 MIAA B Conference basketball victory.

The Crusaders (9-5 overall, 4-0 MIAA B) scored the final three points of the third quarter to halt an 8-0 AACS run that had pushed the Eagles out to a 43-36 lead with 44.6 seconds to play in the period. Down 43-39 at the start of the final quarter, the Crusaders then went on to score the first 14 points of the fourth quarter, surging to a 53-43 advantage.

The run was fueled by the Crusaders’ defensive intensity, as they frustrated the Eagles with an aggressive zone which held AACS (9-7 overall, 2-2 MIAA B) scoreless for the first 5:43 of the final quarter.

“Our guys did a great job energy wise,” said St. Paul’s coach Seth Goldberg. “Defensively, our zone was great, but our energy in our zone was very special. The kids gave a really good effort.”

St. Paul’s biggest lead was 13, at 58-45, with a little under three minutes to play in the final quarter, but AACS did not go quietly.

Brandon Joseph, who had two dunks and scored 16 points for the Eagles, hit a three-pointer with 2 minutes, 17 seconds left to pull the Eagles within 10, before senior Kori Rawlings scored back-to-back baskets to slash St. Paul’s lead to six. After a free throw by the Crusaders’ AJ Sawyer, Rawlings hit two free throws and Jordan Johnson converted a three-pointer to bring AACS within two, at 59-57. St. Paul’s final two points came on single free throws by Trayon Wright and Ward, but in between the Eagles did have a possession with a chance to tie. Instead, they fell behind by four, before Rawlings capped the scoring with a layup at the buzzer.

Senior guard Michael Ward started the fourth quarter push by scoring the first four points and he netted 10 of his 13 points in the quarter. He agreed with his coach.

“We know they love to score and we know they love to get high point games, so we just played our defense,” said Ward. “We like to stay out on the three-point line and battle at them. Just speed them up and make them take rushed layups, and rushed shots.”

Ward, who is having a big season as he bounces back from an ACL injury that cut short his junior campaign, added seven rebounds to his performance. Sophomore Ziggy Reid scored a team-high 15 points, with eight rebounds, for the Crusaders and Trayon Wright added 11 points and five assists.

In addition, Jon Walker was a force on the interior for St. Paul’s, scoring eight points and bringing down 13 rebounds, and Troy Barthelme pitched in with six rebounds.

Rawlings scored 22 points for the Eagles to lead all scorers.

St. Paul’s led most of the first half, leading by six at one point in the first quarter and as many as seven in the second quarter. Late in the half, AACS rallied to take a 27-26 lead, but the Crusaders rebound to take a 29-27 advantage into the intermission.

“AACS is so good. Doug (Scheidt) does a great job,” said Goldberg. “Every time you think you’re going to pull away, they are going to find a way. It’s a well-coached team, but I’m very proud of our guys. We shared the ball. There were a lot of tough moments in that game and a lot of opportunities to put our heads down and I think our guys did a great job of taking their best punches, staying together and being who we are.”

St. Paul’s remains the only unbeaten team in B Conference play and it leads the Black Division of the conference.

AACS  12  15  16  16  —  59
SP       16  13  10  22  —  61
Rawlings 22, Williams 5, Johnson 7, Heckert 3, Joseph 16, Celcis 6. TOTALS: 25 6-15 59.
Reid 15, Billups 3, Wright 11, Ward 13, Kelly 4, Walker 8, Sawyer 4, Barthelme 3. TOTALS: 20 17-25 61.