The gap between No. 1 St. Frances and the rest of the area's top basketball teams has been growing on a regular basis.
On Wednesday, it grew considerably larger.
Playing at No. 2 Mount St. Joseph with a win against one of their closest rivals already in the books, the Panthers turned in a dominating performance that was complete at both ends, coming away with a 61-48 win over the Gaels in front of an overflow crowd in Irvington.
As has been the case all season, the Panthers were led by seniors Tevon Saddler and Maurice White, who took turns taking over the game at key moments. Saddler finished with 19 points and White had 16. That Panthers dominated the boards, got to most of the loose balls and enjoyed streaks of hot shooting to build a large lead.
St. Frances improves to 21-1 overall, 11-0 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and 9-0 in the Baltimore Catholic League. Mount St. Joseph (18-4) falls to 5-3 in the MIAA and 6-3 in the BCL.
"I really think the little things we've been doing have been the key to us winning — getting to the loose balls, rebounding and defending," St. Frances coach Nick Myles said. "Those are the things that don't show up on the stat sheet but are big"
As for the efforts from Saddler and White, Myles added: "They're doing a little bit of everything for us — scoring, rebounding, diving for balls and leading. And having two senior leaders like that makes a good team into a great team,"
Behind a 21-point performance from senior guard Kameron Williams, the Gaels did everything they could to stay close in the first half and went into the third quarter down 32-26. That's when the Panthers took over.
Saddler scored eight points in a 10-2 run that pushed the lead to 42-28, then White helped make sure it stayed comfortable with eight points of his own — closing with a three-point play on the opening possession of the fourth quarter to build the visitors' largest lead to 52-34 with 7:39 to play. Freshman Khalil Richards added nine points, and Dwayne Morgan and Kurk Lee Jr. each scored seven.
"We knew it was going to be a hostile crowd and we would have to play for each other, and we did that," Saddler said. "To be 21-1 is great, but we haven't done anything yet — we want the rings."
After also falling to St. Frances, 58-57, in the first meeting, the Gaels will have to find some answers if they plan to make a run in the two leagues' playoffs.
Phil Booth scored 12 in the loss, butconsistent scoring and rebounding were tough to come by on Wednesday.
"The rebounding, the loose balls and we didn't do a good enough of containing the dribble," Mount St. Joseph coach Pat Clatchey said. "They're a very talented team — athletic and physical and versatile."
No. 1 St. Frances 61, No. 2 Mount St. Joseph 48
SF – Saddler 19, White 16, Morgan 7, Richards 9, Lee Jr., 7, Wells 3. Totals: 23 8-14 61.
MSJ – Williams 21, Booth 12, Doran 7, Jones 2, McNeil 4, Barnes 2. Totals: 15 16-19 48.
Half: SF, 32-26.