When Mount St. Mary's found the pot o' gold

It’s a small Catholic school nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Frederick County. But 56 years ago, the sports world beat a path to Mount St. Mary’s when its basketball team won a national championship.

On March 17, 1962, the Mountaineers captured the NCAA college division tournament, 58-57, in overtime over Sacramento State in Evansville, Ind. It was a white-knuckled finish for the Mount, which had won its semifinal game against Southern Illinois by the same score on a buzzer-beating 20-foot bank shot by Eddie Pfeiffer, a ballhandling (and flu-stricken) guard. The title game standout was Dick Talley, who scored 23 points and made the winning free throw despite an infected right arm shot full of penicillin.

Was it the luck of the Irish? The champs won the title on St. Patrick’s Day, just two days before the birthday of their coach, Jim Phelan, truly green to the core. Their star player was a high-scoring forward named John O’Reilly. And, throughout the three-day tournament, the Mountaineers saved one seat on the bench for Clancy the Cobbler, a 4-inch porcelain leprechaun who joined them for the last nine games of the season — all victories.

Mount St. Mary’s (22-6) returned home to Emmitsburg, met by cheering students and its band playing, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

“It’s a great feeling, I’ll tell you,” Phelan told the crowd. “But I couldn’t take much more.”

He coached 41 more years. Enshrined in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, Phelan turns 89 this month.



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