Down a dozen to Mount Saint Joseph in the third quarter of Sunday’s 47th Baltimore Catholic League championship game, St. Frances did what it has done most of the season.
The No. 3 Panthers kept grinding, kept confident and never wavered.
In the end, they overcame.
Senior Elijah Epps and sophomore Jordan Toles helped get St. Frances close and then sophomore guard Adrian Baldwin put the Panthers over the top.
He scored 11 of his 13 points in the final 4:33 of the game to lead St. Frances to a 52-50 win over the defending champion and No. 4 Gaels at Goucher.
It’s the eighth BCL tournament championship for St. Frances, which is the most by any school. The Panthers went into the final tied with Mount Saint Joseph and Calvert Hall with seven.
Baldwin was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Joining him on the All-BCL tournament team were Epps and their teammate Rajeir Jones; Mount St. Joseph’s James Bishop and Jalen Smith; and St. Maria Goretti's Abdou Tsimbila.
“We were down 12 and Coach [Nick Myles] told us we were good and keep fighting,” Baldwin said. “It’s a great experience and feels good.”
The Panthers (35-5) spent most of the regular season ranked No. 1 in the area but were upset by Boys’ Latin in last week’s Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinals.
After an impressive 70-53 win over MIAA champion John Carroll in Saturday’s BCL semifinal, they weren’t nearly as sharp Sunday and the Gaels (30-6) methodically built a 34-22 advantage with 2:29 left in the third quarter.
Moments before, Smith, a star center for Mount Saint Joseph, was injured — he left with 4:51 to play and the Gaels up 10 and returned with 6:31 left in regulation and the lead down to 36-31.
By then, the Panthers had begun to find their offensive rhythm and it carried through to the end. Epps hit a 3-pointer and then Toles converted a three-point play to help get the Panthers close and then Baldwin took the game over. His 3-pointer with 3:22 to play gave the Panthers their first lead at 43-42 since midway through the first quarter. His three-point play with 1:30 to play made it 48-42.
“Down the stretch, [Baldwin] was big,” Myles said. “We put the ball in his hands and told him to win us this championship and that’s exactly what he did.”
The Gaels, who went 3:47 without a point, would rally in the final 21 seconds when Tyree Myers hit a 3-pointer and then Bishop was fouled trying a 3 with 14 seconds left. His three makes at the free-throw line cut the lead to three, but Ed Ferguson made one free throw to make it a two-possession game with Smith scoring the last basket with less than one second to play.
“We just fought to the end and that’s what we had to do. That’s it — last game, keep fighting and we got a championship,” Epps said.
Both teams received invitations to play in the Alhambra Catholic Invitational, which starts Thursday and runs through Saturday at Frostburg State. On Thursday, Mount Saint Joseph opens against defending champion Gonzaga at 5:45 p.m. and then St. Frances will take on Bishop O’Connell at 9:15.
MSJ — Myers 9, Bishop 17, J. Smith 16, McMillan 2, McDonald 6. Totals: 18 12-18 50
SF — Baldwin 13, Epps 12, Diop 2, Jones 7, Moore 4, Toles 12, Ferguson 2. Totals: 19 13-19 52
Half: MSJ, 25-18