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Mount Saint Joseph basketball topples defending champ St. Frances, 76-63, to win MIAA A Conference title

The Mount Saint Joseph basketball team had been there before, less than two weeks ago, holding a significant fourth-quarter lead against St. Frances and trying to close out a victory.

They faltered that time. But this time, playing for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship on Sunday, the outcome was different.

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Instead, Jason Edokpayi, Ausar Crawley, D’Angelo Stines and Antonio Hamlin were gathered at midcourt all smiles and high-fives while teammate Tyler Brelsford was at the free-throw line with 39 seconds left and the game already decided.

All five had done their share, along with their teammates — a sensational 21-point, 11-rebound from Edokpayi the driving force — as the No. 3 Gaels earned a 76-63 win over defending champion and No. 1 St. Frances at packed APGFCU Arena on the campus of Harford Community College in Bel Air. Mount Saint Joseph improved to 27-5, while St. Frances, ranked No. 6 in ESPN’s national Top 25 poll, fell to 33-4.

The 73-69 loss the Gaels had at St. Frances on Feb. 14, in which they relinquished a 13-point lead with five minutes left, is behind them, along with the Panthers’ 77-61 win in last year’s title game. Sunday’s win puts the Gaels at 2-1 this season against their toughest rival.

“We knew that loss a couple weeks ago might have been the best-case scenario for us because now it was 1-1 and we knew exactly what we had to do to get the win,” said Edokpayi, who also had three blocked shots. “We knew we had to play four hard quarters and we could not stop and just have three good quarters and rely on defensive stops. We knew we had to get stops and score to close out the game.”

The two regular season games — Mount Saint Joseph won the first meeting, 62-53, on Jan. 17 — started the same way, with the Gaels getting off to a fast start. Sunday was no different. Behind an 18-point first half from Edokpayi, the Gaels built a 28-11 lead midway through the second quarter, and then, after exchanging spurts with the Panthers, found themselves up 60-42 on a baseline jumper from Brelsford (16 points, five assists) on the opening possession of the fourth quarter.

The Panthers, who got a game-high 25 points from senior point guard Adrian Baldwin, made a push behind two 3-pointers from reserve Tevin Curtis, another 3 by Khyrie Staten and a follow from Jamal West to cut the deficit to 64-58 with 3:22 to play.

The Gaels made the big and little plays the rest of the way to secure the championship. Stines (16 points) answered West’s basket 10 seconds later. Mount Saint Joseph had one possession with two offensive rebounds that chewed up more than one minute, and Crawley (16 points) made it 68-58 on a baseline drive with 1:51 to play.

On the Gaels’ next possession, they had the floor spread and the ball moving swiftly before Brelsford hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with four seconds left on the shot clock and 1:12 left in the game. It gave the Gaels a 71-59 lead and assurance that the program’s sixth MIAA A title was on its way.

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“After the last time, we learned what it took. We told our guys that this time we might bend, but we’re not going to break,” Mount Saint Joseph coach Pat Clatchey said.

“We kept our poise, composure. We came up with a couple big offensive rebounds that gave us a chance to use the clock. We inbounded the ball, didn’t turn the ball over … it was just a team effort, really a quality team win.”

Said Brelsford: “It just shows all the hard work in the offseason paid off and it was great to come out with the win and to be champions."

The teams will next turn their attention on the Baltimore Catholic League playoffs, which begin Wednesday with quarterfinal round play.

St. Frances is the defending champion and the top seed, set to host eight-seeded Calvert Hall. Second-seeded Mount Saint Joseph is at home against seventh-seeded St. Maria Goretti. Both games are set to start at 7 p.m.

As the Panthers walked off the court Sunday, a few players looked back to watch the Gaels celebrate. There’s a good chance the teams meet again.

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“I don’t know what it is about with St. Joe. We played them three times and we got off to three slow starts, so we’ll try to figure it for next time if we get them again,” St. Frances coach Nick Myles said.

“This is going to wake us up, so we’ll focus on our next game against Calvert Hall and go from there.”

Last week, St. Frances received an invitation to the 60th Alhambra Catholic Invitational tournament, set to run from March 12-14 at Frostburg State in Cumberland. One spot remains in the eight-team field, which will be determined later this week. The Gaels made a strong argument for it Sunday.

MSJ – Brelsford 16, Edokpayi 21, Crawley 16, Stines 16, Hamlin 3, Carr 2, Sykes 2. Totals: 27 15-21 76

SF – Baldwin 25, West 12, Ireland 4, Staten 8, Reese 6, Curtis 8. Totals: 20 16-21 63

Half: MSJ, 34-25

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