The No. 1 Calvert Hall basketball team has piled up wins this season with an experienced group of players who promote balance.
But from time to time, one of their many standouts can bust out with a monster performance. In Sunday's Baltimore Catholic League semifinal against No. 3 Mount Carmel, it was Nico Clareth's turn to shine.
Clareth scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the second half, including four 3-pointers and a monstrous alley-oop dunk, to lead the Cardinals to a 82-58 win over Mount Carmel at Towson's SECU Arena. Senior forward Evan Phoenix added 20 points and dominating work on the boards, and senior guard Drew Edwards finished with 13 points.
"In the first half, I was a little slow," Clareth said. "My teammates were picking me up, and the second half, you've got to forget about it -- the game is 0-0 -- and I came out and got buckets and did what I had to do on defense and that's about it."
Calvert Hall (28-5) will meet No. 5 John Carroll — a 69-68 double-overtime winner against No. 9 St. Frances in the other semifinal — at 7 p.m. Monday at SECU Arena for the title. Mount Carmel (27-8) received 20 points from senior Will Jenkins III, with David Erebor and Montez Mathis both adding nine points.
"It's going to take speeding them up," Phoenix said about the matchup with John Carroll in the BCL title game. "They're a slow-paced team, they like to keep [the game] in the 40[-point] range, so we need to push the tempo and make sure we keep scoring in transition and getting buckets."
Leading, 33-26, at the half Sunday, the Cardinals scored 25 points in the third quarter — Clareth and Phoenix accounted for 20 of them — to build a 58-40 lead.
Unlike last Sunday's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game, when the Cardinals had to fend off a late fourth-quarter rally to pull out a 71-68 win, they stayed in charge with Clareth hitting consecutive 3-pointers and then the dunk to start the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals started fast and, much like their win against Mount Carmel for the MIAA A Conference title, used their balance to get ahead. They opened the game by getting points on six of their first nine possessions — Clareth hit a 3-pointer and then had a steal and a layup in that span.
With the Calvert Hall leading, 20-8, in the final minute of the quarter, the Cougars got consecutive baskets from Frank Webb Jr. and Montez Mathis to start a 10-2 run that would cut the Cardinals' lead to 22-18 with 5:40 left in the half. Edwards answered the run for Calvert Hall with a 3-pointer to make it 25-18 with 4:08 to play, and the teams exchanged points the rest of the way with the Cardinals taking a 33-26 lead at halftime.
"This time we had no let up," Clareth said. "We knew they were going to run and jump like they usually do -- play their fast-paced defense -- but we were ready for it. We stayed composed and, when the chances were open, we got buckets."
Calvert Hall, John Carroll and Mount Carmel all received invitations to compete in the prestigious Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament, set for March 12-14 at Frostburg State University.