There hasn't been a boys basketball team in the area able to consistently match the size, athleticism, depth and togetherness that No. 1 St. Frances has brought to the court this season.
And when the Panthers are hitting their shots, they simply make the game look easy.
Sunday's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game against No. 2 Mount St. Joseph was one of those occasions.
The separation between the area's top two teams was significant at UMBC's packed RAC Arena, where the Panthers scored the game's first 11 points, led by as many as 24 in the second half and coasted through the fourth quarter in capturing the MIAA A crown with a 75-62 win over the Gaels.
Senior guard Tevon Saddler led St. Frances with 24 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Senior forward Maurice White finished with 23 points, and junior forward Dwayne Morgan added 22 points and eight rebounds.
The Panthers, now 31-4, have won all three meetings against Mount St. Joseph (27-6) this season and saved their best performance to date on Sunday's big stage.
"It feels great. We jumped out fast, played together, stayed together and won," Saddler said. "We wanted to come out fast, feed off the crowd and we found our rhythm right at the start."
Saddler and White are both 6 feet 4, Morgan is 6-8, and all three bring versatile inside-outside games that cause fits for an opposing defense. The Gaels were the latest team to leave frustrated.
When they started the game playing zone defense, the Panthers got a 3-pointer from White, two 3s from Morgan and a jumper from Saddler to build an 11-0 lead on their first five possessions. The Gaels would temporarily settle in to cut the advantage to 13-8 before St. Frances went on another 11-0 run for a 24-8 lead late in the first quarter that would never be threatened.
Saddler dominated the second quarter with eight points to help the Panthers go into the break with a 35-19 lead. Then the three standouts scored all 16 of the Panthers' points in the third quarter — highlighted by an alley-oop dunk from Morgan off a pass from point guard Kurk Lee that opened the Panthers' biggest lead at 47-23 midway through.
The Panthers went 15-1 in league play during the regular season, with their only loss a 42-41 setback against John Carroll on Jan. 18. They avenged that loss with a 61-47 win in Friday's semifinals and now have their sights on capturing the Baltimore Catholic League tournament, which opens Friday with quarterfinal round play. St. Frances second-year coach Nick Myles has been impressed with how his Panthers have maintained their consistency through their demanding schedule.
"They've just stayed focused," Myles said. "The seniors really wanted to put themselves through a college-like schedule, so they would be prepared for next year and they've stayed mentally tough."
And while St. Frances looks to keep rolling in the BCL playoffs, the Gaels are hoping to find answers in a bid to solve the Panthers' dominating ways. All-Metro senior guard Kameron Williams scored a team-high 22 points for the Gaels, but 13 came in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided. A bright spot was strong two-way play from freshman forward Daveyon Barnes, who finished with 12 points and provided a strong inside presence.
"St. Frances is a very talented and versatile team that is having a fantastic season," Mount St. Joseph coach Pat Clatchey said. "I was frustrated and disappointed in our lack of our competitiveness. The positive is we still have some more basketball to play, so it's time to regroup, look in the mirror and get ready to compete at a higher level."
Pallotti 62, Gilman 55
Pallotti junior point guard Marquise Reed looked as if he wouldn't be around for the end of yesterday's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference championship game at UMBC.
Reed picked up his fourth foul 16 seconds into the third quarter.
But there he was at the end, scoring a game-high 22 points to lead the second-seeded Panthers to a victory over the fourth-seeded Greyhounds.
Gilman had beaten Pallotti by seven points in last year's title game.