Loyola Blakefield coach Josh Davalli got to thinking Friday about how his Dons, who only have one starter back from last year’s team, would respond when they hosted upstart Glenelg Country later that night.
His curiosity was answered, and he couldn’t have been more pleased.
The Dons matched the No. 4 Dragons point-for-point throughout, and when it was time to decide things in the closing minutes, they showed gumption.
Loyola closed out the final two-plus minutes with 10 straight points, getting stops, rebounds and steals to secure a 56-50 win over Glenelg Country in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference opener for both teams.
Junior forward Mitchell Fischer finished with a game-high 17 points and fellow junior guard Cam Smith added 16, with his steal and dunk closing out the win that told Davalli plenty.
“It’s one game in the grand scheme of things, but I think it shows we have something good here,” he said.
“I thought we responded very well at both ends of the floor. We got stops and rebounds when we needed to, and we had guys that made plays for us offensively. It’s a great win for us because they’re excellent.”
Loyola improved to 4-1 overall, while Glenelg Country, which got 16 points from Jarod Robinson, fell to 1-2.
The Dragons looked poised to take over the game during a few stretches in the second, third and fourth quarters, with their biggest lead at 34-26 midway through the third after Jordan Brathwaite scored inside off a feed from Noah Charles.
But the Dons always stayed close, and their final challenge was coming back from a 48-42 deficit with 5:17 left. Trailing 50-46, they took complete control with strong play at both ends.
Jordan Moore had a steal and layup to tie the game at 50 with two minutes left. Fischer blocked Robinson’s chance at the rim, and Smith drove to the basket to give the Dons the lead for good with 1:24 to play.
Two free throws by John Dixon and the dunk by Smith capped the win. The Dons finished 18-for-23 from the free-throw line, while the Dragons made went just 1-for-4.
“We had to put a lot of work in to get here,” Smith said. “We had a big week of practice and we just showed our heart out there. We just have good chemistry and know how to work well together. It’s huge.”
Glenelg Country coach Garrett O’Donnell saw two good teams battling hard and was quick to credit the Dons for their better work down the stretch, but believed the referees got in the way of a good high school basketball game.
“I think it’s really too bad that we have officiating at this level that is that bad,” he said, noting the free-throw disparity. “You tell me in a physical game where that is fair? But that’s not a knock on Loyola, that’s not a knock on my guys.”
Varsity Highlights Newsletter
Get the latest high school sports stories, photos and video from around the region.