Shortly after the No. 1 Calvert Hall basketball team came away with a thrilling, buzzer-beating 53-52 win over No. 4 John Carroll to capture the 44th Baltimore Catholic League championship Monday at Towson University's SECU Arena, the Cardinals' student section emphatically chanted, "Thank you seniors, thank you seniors."
It has been a special senior class that has led the way throughout the season, but it was an emerging junior, forward Justin Gorham, who brought home the program's seventh BCL crown and first since 2010.
Gorham tracked Nico Clareth's miss that went off the rim and to the left, timed his jump and reached higher than everybody to tip home the game-winning shot just as the final buzzer sounded. It was fitting that the championship game, a defensive grind from start to finish, took a gritty play to decide the outcome.
"The play was drawn up for Nico to go to the basket since he was hot. I saw the ball go up and crashed the glass and came up with the tip in to win the game. It feels great," Gorham said, who finished with 12 points.
Calvert Hall, which claimed the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference crown last weekend with a 71-68 win over No. 5 Mount Carmel, adds the BCL crown and improves to 29-5 on the season with the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament next up in March.
Clareth finished with a game-high 18 points and claimed tournament Most Valuable Player honors. In Sunday's 82-58 win over Mount Carmel in the BCL semifinals, he scored 22 of his game-high 27 points in the second half to lead the Cardinals into the title game.
Joining him on the All-BCL tournament team were teammates Evan Phoenix and Drew Edwards, along with John Carroll's Kimbal Mackenzie and Elijah Long, and St. Frances' Josh Ayeni.
"It's the best feeling in the world," Clareth said. "These two days have been a lot of competition over here, but this is what we've been waiting for. Last year, we came up short [in an overtime loss to Mount Saint Joseph], but this year we knew we had to come out on top and we did what we had to do.
"John Carroll always gives us competition, and we were ready and weren't going to back down for nothing. We've been working way too hard for this all season long. Running sprints at practice, practice on Christmas, three-hour practice — this is what we've been working for, and we knew we weren't coming out on the bottom. We had to come out on top, and that's what we did."
It wasn't easy because of the Patriots' tough zone defense. The Cardinals never found the rhythm they enjoyed against Mount Carmel the night before. They had costly turnovers and missed shots that were always fiercely contested.
Trailing, 52-47, with less than two minutes to play, Calvert Hall found the necessary answers. Gorham took a nifty feed from senior point guard Reggie Rouse for a layup to cut the lead to 52-49 with 1:42 to play. The Cardinals kept the score the same with two key defensive stops before Clareth drove the basket to cut the Patriots' lead to 52-51 with 50 seconds left.
John Carroll had the ball under their basket with 17 seconds left and three seconds on the shot clock when Clareth and Gorham forced a turnover to give Calvert Hall the ball back with 15 seconds left.
Clareth put a jumper from 15 feet that went off the rim for Gorham to tip home.
While the Cardinals side erupted, the Patriots, who effectively played at their pace, led for most of the game and were on the cusp of avenging last week's 75-61 loss in MIAA A Conference semifinals, were devastated.
"Kimbal said it the best…," John Carroll coach Tony Martin said. "he hadn't wanted anything so bad in his whole life, and to lose in that fashion is very tough to swallow. … But we win together and lose together and I'm proud of my guys."
Edwards was the third Cardinals player to reach double figures with 11 points, while Mackenzie scored 12 and Long added 10 for the Patriots, who also received an invitation to the Alhambra tournament.
The game was played with heavy hearts and prayers for Loyola Blakefield's legendary former coach, Jerry Savage, who was hospitalized early Monday morning after suffering a stroke. He had a blood clot removed from his brain and is recovering at University of Maryland Medical Center.
(at Towson Universty)
1 Calvert Hall 53, 4 John Carroll 52
CH – Edwards 11, Phoenix 4, Clareth 18, Gorham 12, Rouse 2, Bahar 3, Duckett 3. Totals: 20 7-12 53
JC – Mackenzie 12, Long 10, Quickley 9, Tyne 8, Tertsea 6, Kangu 4, Maccieri 2, Bassey 1. Totals: 20 8-13 52
Half: JC, 27-26,