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Baltimore Catholic League playoff notes: As Epps goes, so goes St. Frances

St. Frances senior basketball guard Elijah Epps has enjoyed a breakthrough season, but there’s one thing he wants more than anything to make it complete: a Baltimore Catholic League championship.

Throughout the regular season, Epps had made big shot after big shot and game-changing plays to have the Panthers resting at No. 1 for much of the time. But St. Frances faltered in its first chance at a tournament crown — upset by Boys’ Latin in the semifinals of last week’s Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs.

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Now ranked No. 3 but holding the BCL’s top seed, the Panthers have a chance at redemption. Epps, who earned All-BCL first-team honors, welcomes the opportunity to be the difference-maker.

Averaging 11 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and a steal a game this season, Epps, a captain in his third varsity season, has played big in the bigger games. He scored 18 in an early-season win over MIAA A champion John Carroll and went for 26 points — including 10 makes in 10 tries at the foul line — to carry the Panthers to a win over No. 4 Mount Saint Joseph. When Chicago-power Morgan Park was in town, he took center stage with 19 points — making all four of his 3 point tries — and added seven assists in a big win.

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After what he described as a disappointing junior season, a time when he didn’t want the basketball when the time came to win a game, he is now filled with confidence that started with one request over the summer: getting the key to the St. Frances gym to work harder on his game.

“I told myself I was going to get into the gym over the summer and look forward to a good senior season,” he said. “The confidence has been great this year. It builds up having to go through stuff like that and you get better and better.”

With a roster filled with underclassmen, Epps has been showing the way.

“He’s been our leader all year and he really sacrifices anything to win,” St. Frances coach Nick Myles said. “He’s a lot more confident about himself and his abilities, and he’s showing the young guys how it needs to be done. That’s one of the most impressive things.”

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He also knows what it take to win a title, having been part of an MIAA A championship team in his sophomore year. The Panthers host Mount Carmel, seeded eighth, in the quarterfinals Wednesday night at 7.

“We have to play together and win as a team. It can’t be one player — everybody has to help,” he said.

The Patriots squandered a 17-point second half lead but regrouped to earn the program's third Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference crown and first since 2012.

Sweep in the future for the Patriots?

Last year, Mount Saint Joseph became the 12th team to sweep the MIAA A Conference and BCL tournament titles since 1994.

Can John Carroll be the next team?

The No. 1 Patriots took the first step when they beat Boys’ Latin for the MIAA A championship Sunday, but, as expected, getting through the tournament wasn’t easy.

All-Metro senior guard Immanuel Quickley scored at the overtime buzzer to get them past Mount Saint Joseph in the semifinals Thursday, then they needed extra time again on Sunday against the Lakers.

Coach John Zito gave the team Monday off to enjoy the MIAA championship, and then preparations for the quarterfinal game against Calvert Hall — set for 7 p.m. Wednesday — began Tuesday. The Patriots have beaten Calvert Hall handily in each of the three meetings this season, including an 88-72 victory in the MIAA quarterfinals Feb. 20. Zito said the Patriots won’t get caught overlooking the Cardinals.

“We’re taking the same approach — one game at a time,” Zito said. “Our mindset needs to stay sharp. The last couple days in the MIAA, we talked about having the championship mindset and it just has to continue for us.”

The 6-foot-10 Maryland-bound senior forward was among many honored Monday afternoon at the Baltimore Catholic League's annual awards luncheon.

Mount Saint Joe’s Jalen Smith ready to roll

Senior forward Jalen Smith, who was sidelined in Thursday’s MIAA semifinal loss against John Carroll, is ready to lead Mount Saint Joseph to a second straight BCL crown.

The two-time BCL Player of the Year and McDonald’s All American took an elbow to the jaw early in the third quarter and wasn’t able to return as the No. 4 Gaels (28-5) fell to the Patriots in overtime, 79-78.

The Maryland commit, who was the All-Metro co-Player of the Year last season, is averaging 24 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots per game this season.

Immanuel Quickley finished with 22 points to help the Patriots advance to the MIAA A Conference final against Boys' Latin.

Three BCL teams set for Alhambra

Mount Saint Joseph, St. Frances and St. Maria Goretti received invitations to play in the 56th annual Alhambra Catholic Invitational at Frostburg State in March.

The eight-team tournament is set to begin Thursday, March 8, and run through Saturday, March 10. Washington power Gonzaga is the defending champion after beating Mount Saint Joseph, 82-70, in last year’s title game.

Spurred by a 9-2 third quarter opening run, the John Carroll Patriots cruised past visiting Calvert Hall Tuesday night, winning 88-72, in an MIAA A conference quarterfinal boys basketball game.

47th BCL playoff schedule

Quarterfinals

Wednesday

(5) Calvert Hall at (4) John Carroll, 7 p.m.

(8) Mount Carmel at (1) St. Frances, 7 p.m.

Thursday

(7) Archbishop Spalding at (2) Mount Saint Joseph, 7 p.m.

(6) Loyola Blakefield at (3) St. Maria Goretti, 7 p.m.

Saturday’s semifinals at Goucher

2-7 winner vs. 3-6 winner, 5:30 p.m.

1-8 winner vs. 4-5 winner, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday at Goucher

Championship game, 3 p.m.

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