Midway through the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 52nd Baltimore Catholic League Tournament championship game, Mount Saint Joseph standout forward Amani Hansberry grabbed a rebound and headed up the court with urgency.
Things were already going well for the No. 2 Gaels against St. Maria Goretti, but the packed crowd at Goucher College sensed more to come.
Sure enough, Hansberry found senior point guard Ace Valentine at midcourt and took a straight path to the basket. The return pass came and Hansberry followed with an emphatic dunk that added to the team’s comfortable lead.
All season long, a historic one for the program, Hansberry and Valentine have shared the lead role and that was the case again on Sunday. Hansberry had 17 points and 21 rebounds and Valentine had 13 points and controlled play as Mount Saint Joseph started fast and stayed on course to claim a 59-50 win over Goretti to close out its campaign.
Junior forward Tyonne Farrell had 17 points and senior guard Sean Clark played tenacious defense in a fine team showing.
After scoring the game’s first six points and adding a 9-0 run later in the first quarter, the Gaels built a 17-point first-half lead and never looked back.
In finishing with a 38-4 mark, they tied a program and BCL record for most wins in a season, won their second straight BCL Tournament title and was the regular-season champion.
Hansberry, already named the BCL’s Player of the Year, was recognized as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Waking up Sunday morning knowing this would be the last time he would wear Mount Saint Joseph purple, the Illinois commit was inspired. It showed.
“It’s emotional,” said Hansberry, who transferred from Washington power St. John’s before last season. “It’s the last time playing with my guys, so just trying to come out here, leave my legacy and get a win so we could get a championship this year.”
Joining Hansberry on the All-BCL Tournament team were teammates Valentine and Farrell, Goretti’s Caleb Embeya and Jahsan Johnson, St. Frances Carlton Carrington and Mount Carmel’s Omarion Reid.
Mount Saint Joseph won both the BCL and Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference titles last year and was ranked No. 1 by The Baltimore Sun throughout this season before getting upset by St. Frances in last weekend’s MIAA A Conference title game.
It proved motivation in capping the season with the BCL title.
After beating Calvert Hall and Mount Carmel to reach Sunday’s final, the Gaels made sure it would be their day in a hurry against Goretti, which knocked off St. Frances in Saturday’s semifinal round but wasn’t able to find the same shooting form on Sunday.
From the start, Mount Saint Joseph attacked the basket, as buckets inside from Austin Abrams, Hansberry and Ryan Truitt provided a 6-0 advantage. Goretti (26-7) shot 21% from the field in the first quarter.
With 4:48 left in the second quarter, Abrams finished a layup after a long outlet pass from Valentine to give the Gaels their biggest lead at 25-8, and they went into the break with a 30-19 advantage.
They maintained a double-digit advantage throughout the third quarter, and when Hansberry and Valentine connected on the special play in the fourth, the lead ballooned to 49-32.
“Me and Ace, we’ve been playing since fifth grade, so we’ve built up some chemistry,” Hansberry said. “I always know where he’s at and he knows where I’m at, so just good teammates. It was really sensational, kind of hard to describe getting up and getting on the rim, so it was a lot of fun.”
A poor performance at the free-throw line — the Gaels made 13 of 28 — made the game appear closer than it was. To Goretti’s credit, the Hagerstown team closed the gap to 56-50 in the closing seconds before Farrell, Hansberry and Clark each made one free throw to make the final margin 59-50.
“I thought our defense was really good in the first half,” Mount Saint Joseph 31-year coach Pat Clatchey said. “We’re about playing defense, taking care of the ball and executing when we have to. I was very disappointed with our foul shooting — I think that’s a 20-point win if we make foul shots. I guess we wanted to make it a little more interesting than it had to be.”
Valentine, a UMBC commit, reached his season-long goal of making sure to close out his career on a championship note.
“The only way I wanted to go out on is a championship — that was the goal I just wanted to go out with a win. I didn’t want to go out sad and stuff like that, so I’m glad we won,” he said.
After scoring 29 points in Goretti’s win over St. Frances, Johnson was limited to 11 on Sunday, and Embaya and Najeh Allen each posted 10 for Goretti.
Before the game, the BCL had a moment of silence for former Archbishop Curley basketball coach and teacher Dan Popera, who died over the weekend. Popera, who remained active as a contributor in the BCL, is a 2023 inductee into the league’s hall of fame.
SMG — Allen 10, Embeya 10, Johnson 11, Cook 9, Cheung 8, Wright 2. Totals: 15 14-20 50
MSJ — Valentine 13, Abrams 6, Farrell 17, Hansberry 17, Clark 3, Truitt 3. Totals: 23 13-28 59
Half: 30-19, MSJ