Mount Saint Joseph basketball coach Pat Clatchey offered up a couple cliches about this time of the season, when the stakes are highest.
“Win or go home” came out first.
His No. 2 Gaels were up against it in Saturday’s Baltimore Catholic League Tournament semifinal, getting another stern test from Mount Carmel.
For the third time this season, Mount Saint Joseph was able to find the answers against the Cougars, riding a collective effort to a 69-59 victory at Goucher College that gives the Gaels an opportunity to defend last year’s crown.
Mount Saint Joseph (37-4) will return to Goucher on Sunday to take on St. Maria Goretti — a 68-62 winner over No. 1 St. Frances — at 3 p.m.
In getting to Sunday’s title game, the Gaels got double-doubles from seniors Amani Hansberry (17 points, 13 rebounds) and Tyonne Farrell (14 points, 11 rebounds) and a 17-point, five-assist, two-steal effort from point guard Ace Valentine.
Uneven through three quarters in taking a 45-44 lead, the Gaels opened the deciding fourth with a 7-0 run and stayed on course to close out the win.
“This time of year, it’s just about finding a way to win,” Clatchey said. “I don’t think we played great. I thought our defense in the last five or six minutes got better. We got a lead, got a chance to run a bit and we executed a little better to get a cushion and did what we had to do down the stretch.”
The Cougars got a 20-point performance from from Omarion Reid and 14 points from guard Andrew Dixon to stay close. When Reid converted a 3-point play with 1:33 left in the third quarter, the Cougars took a 44-41 lead. But the Gaels got two free throws from Hansberry and a tip-in on their last possession of the frame to pull ahead, 45-44.
The Gaels never looked back.
Austin Abrams took a wraparound feed from Valentine to make it 47-44 and Sean Clark followed with consecutive baskets before Joe Green made it 53-44 with 5:50 to play.
Mount Carmel, which finished with a 20-16 mark, cut the lead to 55-51 before Hansberry answered with two baskets to restore order.
Both regular-season meetings were tight — the latest a 55-51 home win for the Gaels on Jan. 20. Valentine said the veteran team has grown comfortable in tight spots.
“We do this thing in practice called ‘March Madness,’ working on end of game stuff and it translates into games, so we’re always prepared for the close games like this,” he said.
After falling to St. Frances in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title game last Sunday, the Gaels are looking to close the season on a high note with an opportunity to claim the program’s ninth BCL Tournament title.
“I told our seniors, ‘You get a chance to wear that uniform once or twice more. Wear it today and win, you get to wear it tomorrow,’” Clatchey said. “We’re glad to be back in it, and our goal is to win it.”
MC — Dixon 14, Tatum 3, Kalu 7, Reid 20, Mordi 5, Scott 2, Sinigoj 8. Totals: 24 9-13 59
MSJ — Valentine 17, Abrams 8, Farrell 14, Hansberry 17, Clark 7, Green 4, Truitt 4. Totals: 28 10-13 69
Half: MSJ, 30-25