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'They’re all about winning’: Ace Baldwin and Jamal West have things covered inside and out for St. Frances

St. Frances's Jamal West , right, dunks as several Mount St. Joseph Gaels players look on in the first half of the Baltimore Catholic League basketball game. Mount St. Joe's defeated St. Frances 62-53 at the Smith Center.
St. Frances's Jamal West , right, dunks as several Mount St. Joseph Gaels players look on in the first half of the Baltimore Catholic League basketball game. Mount St. Joe's defeated St. Frances 62-53 at the Smith Center. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

Last season, the St. Frances boys basketball team opened its postseason by getting a dominant 41-point, 12-rebound performance from forward Jamal West, setting the tone for the Panthers to capture the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship.

Far from finished, they ended their playoff run with point guard Adrian “Ace” Baldwin hitting an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer to win the Baltimore Catholic League championship game.

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Throughout the two-week grind of playoff basketball, West, the explosive 6-feet-5 Dunbar transfer, and Baldwin, the silky smooth point guard, took turns owning the critical moments in the season’s biggest games.

That was the plan all along when West, upon Baldwin’s urging, made the decision to attend St. Frances. And now, as the team’s senior leaders, the area’s most talented one-two punch is looking for more with the No. 3 Panthers (23-3) having an end goal of adding more championships at season’s end.

A quality primer takes place Saturday at 4 p.m. at the William Wells Classic when the No. 3 Panthers take on No. 1 Poly at Morgan State. The annual showcase opens with the No. 1 St. Frances girls taking on No. 2 Poly at 2 p.m.

As for the highly anticipated boys game, the Panthers have always had a policy of never looking past the next game, but this one is difficult not to put an extra star beside. Last year at Towson University’s packed SECU Arena, the Engineers pulled out a 59-58 win on a jumper from then-junior Ian Wallace in the closing seconds.

It will be the third straight year the teams have played. St. Frances won the first game, back in 2018.

St. Frances guard Adrian "Ace" Baldwin, All-Metro boys basketball Player of the Year in 2018-19
St. Frances guard Adrian "Ace" Baldwin, All-Metro boys basketball Player of the Year in 2018-19 (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

West and the Panthers welcome the big challenge Saturday.

“Everything we’ve heard is they’re going to beat us and they’re going to do this and that, so I’m just looking forward to proving everybody wrong,” West said. “I feel like the team we have now, we have people that are going to go all-out for everybody and we’re going to get the job done.”

No question, everything for the Panthers starts and ends with Baldwin and West — the team’s only starters back from last season. Baldwin, a four-year starter and the reigning All-Metro Player of the Year, is averaging 11 points, 7.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 steals per game as the team’s steadying influence. West, who earned All-Metro first-team honors last season, has been good for 15.3 points and eight rebounds this season.

“We’ve had some special combinations over the years at St. Frances since I’ve been here and those two are definitely in the mix,” said Nick Myles, the Panthers’ nine-year coach. "They’re special kids and they’re all about winning. Both of them sacrifice some personal gains for the benefit of the team, and the good thing about that is we try to have kids college-ready. When they go off to college and play with other good players, they know it is not all about them. But they know when to step up and they do.”

After leading Dunbar to the Class 1A state championship as a sophomore, West, already a dominating inside force, wanted to expand his game and thought transferring to St. Frances was the best route. His father approached Baldwin with a request.

“When Jamal and his dad were meeting with Coach Nick, his dad took me to the side and said ‘I need you to get Jamal right’ and I told him ‘I got him — just bring him here and it will be all good.’”

It has turned out better than good.

St. Frances's Jamal West reacts after scoring and drawing a foul against St. Maria Goretti in the second half of the Baltimore Catholic League basketball championship.
St. Frances's Jamal West reacts after scoring and drawing a foul against St. Maria Goretti in the second half of the Baltimore Catholic League basketball championship. (Steve Ruark / Baltimore Sun)

The two made an instant connection on and off the court, starting with their regular battles in practice that set a positive example for the younger players.

During intrasquad scrimmages, Myles has always had the two on different sides. They go at each other hard with game-like intensity, bicker at each other relentlessly and, at the end of the session, both know they and the entire team got better that day.

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“They go against each other every day, and we all kind of experience it and get a taste of it. It definitely shows what we put out in practices brings us results in games,” sophomore guard Khyrie Staten said. “They’re great players, they’re brothers and great leaders. And when times get tough, they’re always there to step up. Playing with them has been a great experience because once they leave, I can be ready to step up.”

Baldwin, who has committed to Virginia Commonwealth, and West, a South Alabama commit, are both happy with their college choices and excited by the chance of playing Division I college basketball.

But there’s still work left at St. Frances.

The performances the duo enjoyed in the two championship games last season have set a high standard.

In the Panthers’ win over Mount Saint Joseph for the MIAA title, Baldwin, who recently surpassed 1,500 career points, had 28 points and six assists and West added 23 points and 11 rebounds. They combined to score 33 second-half points to bring the team back from a six-point halftime deficit.

In beating St. Maria Goretti for the BCL crown, Baldwin’s game-winning 3-pointer closed the books on a stellar night during which he had 25 points, eight assists, seven steals and six rebounds. West did more than his share with 28 points and nine rebounds.

Boys’ Latin coach Cliff Rees described the pair’s connection as a high school version of a legendary NBA point guard-power forward tandem.

“When I was thinking about [Baldwin and West], I was going back to John Stockton and Karl Malone. Two guys that just clicked and were an unbelievable duo playing together,” he said. “And these guys obviously aren’t Stockton and Malone, but in terms of Baltimore basketball and high school basketball, it’s hard to imagine a better duo.

"They play together so well and they’re both unselfish and efficient players, which makes them extremely difficult to play against.”

In their brief time playing together, the two have already had their share of lasting memories.

Baldwin doesn’t hesitate saying the BCL and MIAA championship games share the top spots.

“We both killed those games,” he said.

And then shortly after the thrilling BCL title game win, Baldwin said, they shared another special moment.

“We got together and I said ‘Bro, we got to do the same thing next year.’ Game by game,” he said.

William Wells Classic

St. Frances vs. Poly

Saturday at Hill Field, Morgan State University

Girls game, 2 p.m.

Boys game, 4 p.m.

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