Suddenly, Mount St. Joseph is the hottest team in the combined Baltimore Catholic League/Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference.
The No. 8-ranked Gaels boys basketball team reeled off its seventh straight league win and ninth overall yesterday at home in Irvington by upsetting No. 2 Archbishop Spalding, 71-62.
"We've been taking care of business lately," said Gaels point guard J.J. Outlaw. "It's all about wins and where you get seeded for the tournament."
Outlaw's eight straight free throws were part of the Gaels' 19-for-22 in the final eight minutes as they pushed a 44-40 lead after three quarters to the eventual nine-point victory.
For the game, Mount St. Joseph shot 30-for-39 from the line against the foul-prone Cavaliers.
"Losing Cory Hudson, who is our best rebounder, really hurt us in the first half," said Spalding coach Mike Glick, who lost Hudson to fouls for good with five minutes left in the game. Hudson was held scoreless. Two other starters, 6-foot-11 Will Bowers and point guard Landy Thompson, played most of the fourth quarter with four fouls.
"It was the first time this season that Cory got into foul trouble, but give a lot of credit to Mount St. Joe."
Improving to 9-5 in the league, the Gaels (20-7 overall) knocked Spalding (23-5) out of first place at 11-3. No. 5 Calvert Hall (21-6) is 11-2 in the 16-game schedule.
Calvert Hall, a 72-35 winner over Loyola (3-11, 11-16) yesterday, visits Spalding tomorrow night. St. Maria Goretti (18-9) is right behind Spalding at 10-4 and a game ahead of the Gaels after its 71-59 victory at Cardinal Gibbons (5-9, 14-16) yesterday.
Beset by early season injuries that included 6-6 Anthony Fair, Mount St. Joseph started its winning streak after losing at home to Calvert Hall, 56-50, on Jan. 18. Since then, the Gaels have improved in nearly every facet of their game, including their foul shooting and inside game with 6-6 sophomore Will Thomas.
"Once we got past those injuries and made adjustments, we've been playing as well as anybody in the area," said Gaels coach Pat Clatchey, whose team had shot 6-for-19 at the line in a 67-61 loss at Spalding on Jan 13.
The development of Thomas, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds yesterday, has helped the Gaels surge.
"I might be a little biased, but I think the kid is the best sophomore player in the area," Clatchey said. "But it just wasn't him today."
Thomas' dunk followed Outlaw's first two free throws in the last quarter to give the Gaels a 48-40 lead. Thomas got the ball on a penetration and pass from Outlaw, who had 10 of his team-high 19 points late in the game.
The last of Keon Lattimore's 18 points boosted the Gaels' lead to 58-49 with 2:23 remaining. A follow by Thomas with a minute left put the game out of reach at 62-51, despite Spalding's frantic finish.
Thompson scored 12 of his game-high 24 points for Spalding in the final quarter, including 10 of the Cavs' last 13 in the final two minutes. Matt Latonick had the other three on his fifth three-pointer of the game.