The No. 2 St. Frances boys basketball team has had several close calls in staying undefeated in the Baltimore Catholic League, and last night's semifinal against No. 14 Mount St. Joseph was no different.
It's in the tightly contested games that the experience of the defending league champion Panthers shines through the most.
After watching the Gaels rally from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime, St. Frances' poised play once again took over as it came away with a 68-66 win at Loyola College to advance to tomorrow's title game.
The Panthers (28-2) will take on Loyola (19-12), a 57-51 winner over Calvert Hall last night, at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Loyola College.
Senior forward Terrell Vinson scored the winning basket with four seconds left in overtime, taking an inside pass from junior guard Wayne Sparrow and laying it up off the glass.
Sophomore point guard R.J. Williams scored a team-high 18 points and added five assists. Vinson finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, and three more Panthers reached double figures.
It was just enough to offset fine performances from Mount St. Joseph standouts Eric Atkins and Gerald Hill, who scored 25 and 20, respectively.
"We knew it was going to be a great game," St. Frances coach Mark Karcher said. "Every time we played Mount St. Joseph, they stayed close with us. What we have is a veteran player in Terrell, and I have a lot of key players that can come on and off the floor and do different things."
Leading 26-24 at the half, the Panthers made an effort to get out in transition to start the third quarter. It helped them build a 43-29 lead when Donte Holmes (12 points) finished off a fast break with 2:24 left in the quarter. The Gaels, who didn't lead for the entire second half or in overtime, rallied from a 49-40 deficit with five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, with Atkins scoring 12 during a 19-10 run that sent the game into overtime.
The Panthers scored the first five points of overtime - Sparrow opening with a driving layup - before Vinson answered the Gaels' final push with the game-winning basket.
No. 9 Loyola 57, No. 3 Calvert Hall 51: : Senior guard Matt Rum scored 21 points and the Dons hit 13 of 14 free throws in the final 2:33 to pull out the upset.
Loyola will be making its BCL-record 14th appearance in the title game. The Dons will be looking for their sixth league championship.
Trailing 38-31 going into the fourth quarter, the Cardinals pulled within 42-41 with 4:35 left when Shawn Holmes hit his second consecutive three-pointer, but the Dons got an inside basket from Trevor Dauses and were nearly flawless at the free-throw line the rest of the way to seal the win. Matt Mathias made all eight of his free throws late.
Donya Jackson scored 20 points to lead the Cardinals, who fell to 28-5.