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Loyola Blakefield basketball holds off John Carroll, 60-55, to advance to BCL semifinals

The one distinct advantage the Loyola Blakefield basketball team had over young John Carroll in a Baltimore Catholic League quarterfinal game was playoff experience.

That showed up Wednesday night in Bel Air.

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As the minutes wore down in a tightly contested game throughout, the visiting Dons made the necessary plays at both ends of the court, leaning on All-Metro senior Mitch Fischer and junior Cam Smith before senior guard Rece Gardner sealed the 60-55 win with two free throws in the closing seconds.

Fischer finished with a team-high 24 points, while Smith overcame early foul trouble to score eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

The Dons, seeded fifth in the eight-team field, improved to 19-11 and will take on top seed and defending champion St. Frances in Friday’s semifinal round at 5 p.m. at Loyola Maryland. John Carroll, which got a game-high 27 points from junior guard Jalen Bryant, closed its season with a 22-12 mark.

“We had a bunch of guys step up. I thought we stayed really poised and we really played a gutsy game,” Loyola coach Josh Davalli said.

Loyola had a 10-1 run at the end of the second quarter to take a 30-24 halftime lead, and every time the Patriots drew close — they tied the game twice and led by a point once — the Dons answered the challenge.

In the fourth quarter, it was Fischer and Smith handling the responsibility.

After the Patriots got a 3-pointer from Tyson Commander to tie the game at 48 with 3:59 left, Fischer answered with two free throws and Smith followed with a tough inside basket.

After Fischer hit two more free throws with 19 seconds left for a 56-52 advantage, Bryant hit a 3-pointer from the right corner to cut the lead to one with 10 seconds left.

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Two more free throws from Fischer put the lead back to 58-55, and after a John Carroll turnover, Gardner put the game away with two free throws with four seconds left.

Fischer only had one thing on his mind in the closing minutes.

“We got to win this game. It’s do or die, and we got to win,” he said.

With Smith in the early foul trouble — he picked up his third in the second quarter — the Dons got good play from starting guard Jordan Moore (12 points) and energy and efficiency from their bench to take the halftime lead. It enabled Smith to be a factor when his time came.

“Cam came out in the second half and I thought he played with a great amount of aggression and took the game in his hands for a little while, and then Mitch kind of closed it out for us,” Davalli said.

In finishing with 22 wins, the Patriots covered a lot of ground coming off a five-win season. All 55 of their points on Wednesday came from underclassmen with only two seniors graduating.

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Coach Seth Goldberg, in his second season, called it a tough way to end things, but quickly credited the Dons and is already looking forward to further strides being made from his group next year.

“I thought Loyola Blakefield played well – their best players showed up. It’s a tough way to finish a really good season for our guys,” he said.

“I’ve been coaching for 20 years and to go from five wins to 22 – I’ve never seen anything like it. They’ve become a good team and are learning how to become a great team -- they want that. What a fun team to coach this year.”

LB – M. Fischer 24, Smith 10, Gardner 7, Moore 12, Walsh 5, Georgelis 2. Totals: 18 21-29 60

JC – Jakubowski 2, Tchilombo 6, Bryant 27, Commander 12, Basima 4, Vaughn 4. Totals: 20-10-16 55

Half: LB, 30-24

No. 2 St. Frances 92, Calvert Hall 50: Senior Jamal West scored a game-high 21 points and added six rebounds, while junior Julian Reese had a double double with 16 points and 12 rebounds as the Panthers rolled in the Baltimore Catholic League quarterfinals.

The Panthers, the defending champions and the top seed, are 35-4 and will meet No. 11 Loyola Blakefield in Friday’s semifinal round at Loyola Maryland at 5 p.m.

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