The 42nd Baltimore Catholic League tournament opened Thursday night with an absolute stunner -- eighth-seeded Mount Carmel, who only won one league game in 14 during the regular season, claimed a 59-50 win at No. 1 and top-seeded St. Frances.
It was the same St. Frances team that dominated the regular season -- going 13-1 in league play with its only hiccup a one-point loss to John Carroll in the final seconds. The same Panthers continued to separate themselves from the rest of the pack when they won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A championship on Sunday -- comfortably handling then-No. 2 Mount St. Joseph, 75-62, in a game that wasn't as close as the final score.
So how did Mount Carmel pull off the upset Thursday to become only the second eight seed in 42 BCL tournaments to beat the top seed?
"Our kids did a great job of playing together and our team defense stayed strong throughout the game," Mount Carmel coach Tom Rose said. "Even though our record doesn't show it, we were in a lot of close games throughout the season, but weren't able to close them out. This time, we did the things we needed to late in the game -- made free throws and layups and stayed strong on defense."
The rest of the quarterfinal round takes place tonight with seventh-seeded Loyola traveling to second-seeded and No. 3 Mount St. Joseph at 6 p.m.; sixth-seeded Calvert Hall at third-seeded and No. 6 John Carroll at 7 p.m.; and fifth-seeded St. Maria Goretti at fourth-seeded and No. 7 Archbishop Spalding at 7 p.m.
Mount Carmel, now 12-17, is through to Sunday's semifinals and three more teams also will advance knowing mighty St. Frances won't be playing.
"I'm sure the other seven teams are thinking much the same thing," John Carroll coach Tony Martin said. "First, you have to take care of the team in front of you and, second, everybody is a little more amped up and wants to take advantage knowing a great team is out of the tournament so early."
For the seven teams left, the opportunity to win Monday's championship improved with the league's most dominant team no longer in the running.
"It does make it wide open now," Spalding coach Derrick Lewis said. "You would have to say the favorite now is Mount St. Joe, but St. Frances was a heavy favorite the way they played all season. It's going to be an interesting tournament."
In 1998, eighth-seeded Calvert Hall upset top-seeded St. Frances, 58-56, in the BCL quarterfinals.