TOWSON – Nick Myles, the boys’ basketball coach at St. Frances Academy, took the trophy awarded to the champion of the Baltimore Catholic League, walked it to the scorers’ table at Goucher College, and set it in front of William Wells.
A 52-50 victory over Mount St. Joseph March 4 had just given the Panthers their record-setting eighth BCL tournament championship, one more than the Gaels and Calvert Hall. It was the first under Myles; the first six came under the direction of Wells, who began the program in the mid-1980s and retired a decade ago.
“I feel real good for Nick,” Wells said. “He did a heckuva job.”
So did Mount St. Joseph – until McDonald’s All-American and two-time BCL Player of the Year Jalen Smith got bounced out of a scrum under the Gaels’ basket, went down hard and writhed on the floor in pain for several minutes before he limped off, favoring a tender right ankle.
When the 6-foot-10-inch Smith, who will play for the University of Maryland, went down with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter, the second-seeded Gaels were in command with a 30-20 lead.
When he returned with 6:37 left in the fourth, the lead had dwindled to 36-31, their momentum was gone, and Adrian “Ace” Baldwin was about to take over the game.
The lone underclassman on the BCL all-league team, the left-hander was kept under wraps through the first 28 minutes. Baldwin needed less than the next three to score 11, however, including a three-pointer that put St. Frances Academy ahead to stay at 43-42 with 3:25 remaining.
He finished the flurry with a three-point play in traffic, using his off hand and the glass, as the Panthers spread the floor and let him go to work. He led a decisive 12-0 run, when the Gaels went nearly four minutes without a point and St. Frances Academy suddenly had a 50-42 lead.
“Down the stretch, he was big,” Myles said of Baldwin. “We put the ball in his hands and told him to win the game.”
Asked to recall the first time he had done that, Baldwin mentioned playing for a CYO team at St. Joseph in Cockeysville – when he was 8.
BCL Defensive Player of the Year Rajeir “Ra-Ra” Jones led a blanket effort on James Bishop, Mount St. Joseph’s top perimeter threat, who finished with 17 points. Joining Baldwin and Jones on the all-tournament team was Panther senior Elijah Epps, who scored 10 of his 12 in the first three quarters.
St. Frances Academy was the top seed, having lost only at Loyola Blakefield in the BCL regular season. It had plenty of time to stew and get refocused after being upset by Boys’ Latin in the semifinals of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference tournament.
St. Frances Academy, Mount St. Joseph and St. Maria Goretti, which placed Abdou Tsimbila on the all-tournament team, will represent the BCL and join host Bishop Walsh at the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament at Frostburg State University March 8-10.
Email Paul McMullen at pmcmullen@CatholicReview.org