The Catholic League got its glamour matchup as regular-season champion Loyola and defending tournament champion Towson Catholic earned semifinal wins in the 22nd Catholic League Tournament at Loyola College last night.
Top-seeded Loyola (23-8) used a superb 24-point effort from senior Wes Unseld Jr. to open a seven-point fourth-quarter lead and then the Dons staved off a late three-point surge by No. 5 seed Calvert Hall (19-11) to score a 65-63 victory in the second semifinal last night at Loyola College.
In the opening semifinal matchup, No. 2 seed Towson Catholic (19-11) scored the last 16 points of the game, hitting on 12 of 12 from the foul line to defeat Cardinal Gibbons (19-14), the No. 6 seed, 51-39. The Owls, who lost the regular-season championship to Loyola eight days ago, will seek to avenge that loss against Loyola at Reitz Arena at 7 p.m.
The game will mark the fourth tournament championship game appearance by Towson Catholic in the past five seasons. Loyola, which last won the tournament in 1978, has lost in the championship game six times since then.
For the second straight game, it was the 6-foot-4 Unseld who put up the big numbers for Loyola, following a 20-point performance in the opening-round win over Archbishop Curley with a big all-around effort against the Cardinals.
In a game in which neither team could mount any type of substantial lead, Calvert Hall had moved ahead 54-53 with five minutes to play on a three-pointer by Greg Metrinko (17 points).
Then Loyola answered with the game's largest run -- eight points in just under three minutes -- to take a 61-54 lead with 2:17 to play.
Unseld, who hit 9-for-15 from the field, scored four points during the run and added a big block on Calvert Hall's Chris Wilson, who was held scoreless in the final quarter after scoring 22 through the first three quarters.
After that, the Cardinals hit three three-pointers to keep it close, but four last-minute free throws preserved the Loyola win.
"Wes Unseld is a very good player," said Calvert Hall coach Joe Baker. "We just didn't do a really good job on him. Overall, we had a real good effort, but we lost the war."
"Wes is starting to assert himself," said Loyola coach Jerry Savage. "But this was a real good team win for us. Calvert Hall played real well. We kept getting little leads, but they refused to be taken out of the game."
Jerry Hunt scored 13 for Loyola and Tim O'Hara added 12.
In the opening semifinal, two free throws by sophomore Jason Fink after his steal put Towson Catholic ahead to stay 41-39 with 1:32 remaining. Seniors Richard Rhinehart and James Burrell combined to make 10 of 10 foul shots in the closing seconds to seal the Owls' victory.
Burrell led the Owls with 16 points and Rhinehart scored 13.
"Jason [Fink] made a great steal and then we changed defenses on them," said Owls coach Mike Daniel. "It's great for my seniors. They wanted to get back to the championship game and they stepped up when they needed to."
With the game tied 39-39 and with 2:32 to go, Cardinal Gibbons pulled the Owls out of their zone. But Fink made a quick steal near halfcourt that spelled the beginning of the end for the Crusaders.
Gibbons had rallied from a 35-29 deficit late in the third quarter to take a 39-35 lead three minutes into the fourth quarter.