All season, the St. Frances boys basketball team envisioned its senior guards, Kurk Lee Jr. and Daquan Bracey, rising to the moment when the time came.
In Sunday’s Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game against No. 1 Mount Saint Joseph, the dynamic pair emphatically delivered.
Lee Jr. scored a game-high 29 points and added eight assists, while Bracey added 23 points, nine rebounds and took four charges — each taking turns being the best player on the floor — to lift the No. 6 Panthers to a 75-67 win before an overflow crowd at UMBC.
St. Frances improved to 29-8 and claimed the program’s fourth championship.
“It was our intensity,” Bracey said. “We wanted it more than they did, and that’s all it comes down to. It don’t even seem real. I’m just happy [that] in my senior year, we put a banner up.”
The Panthers trailed 21-12 early in the second quarter when they went on a 20-2 run, with Lee Jr. scoring 12 points in the period.
The Gaels (27-4) evened the score at 32 with a 7-0 run going into intermission before Bracey sent the Panthers on their way. He opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer on the first possession and had four more baskets thereafter, with an emphatic steal and dunk pushing the lead to 53-39 with 1:36 to play in the quarter.
Mount Saint Joseph closed to within 61-56 with 2:52 to play in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers got a three-point play from Lee Jr. to answer and made all nine of their free throws in the final 2:08.
“We just had to play our pace,” Lee Jr. said. “When we speed the game up, it’s to our advantage because we’re two quick guards, and I don’t think anybody in the league can stay in front of us. So it makes it easy on us.”
St. Frances coach Nick Myles couldn’t say enough about his dynamic backcourt.
“With those two guys, the way they played today, the way they battled … unbelievable effort, unbelievable will,” he said. “We just wanted to use our guards to our advantage and let them play in space. They did a tremendous job playing in space and making plays.”
The Panthers also got a strong performance from junior forward Tairik Johnson, who had a double double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Mount Saint Joseph got 17 points from Randy Miller and 16 off the bench from Miles Wilson. The teams next will vie for the Baltimore Catholic League championship, set to run Feb. 27-29 at Towson University.
While St. Frances found the path to Sunday’s title game easier — dominating Gilman, 85-66, in the opening round before staying in control for a 59-49 win over John Carroll in Thursday’s semifinal – Mount St. Joseph had to scratch and claw for its two wins.
The Gaels opened the playoffs with a 48-45 win over St. Vincent Pallotti, thanks to Nigel Jackson’s 3-pointer at the buzzer, before holding off No. 4 Glenelg Country, 52-46.
During the regular season, St. Frances made a huge statement at Mount Saint Joseph in the league opener Nov. 23, claiming a comfortable 72-58 win. The Gaels had a much tougher time earning the split, grinding out a 57-55 win at St. Frances on Feb. 3.
Saints Peter & Paul 61, Key School 49: Conor Mullaney scored 15 points and Ricky Bauer added 13 as the Sabres (15-6) knocked off the Obezags (15-6) at UMBC. Key, which got a game-high 21 points from Jelanie Reid, went into the game undefeated in league play, having defeated the Sabres twice by a combined five points.