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St. Frances aims to defend title, IND debuts at Bishop Walsh girls basketball tournament

Defending champion St. Frances leads a contingent of four local basketball teams playing in the Bishop Walsh Girls Invitational Tournament in Cumberland, beginning Thursday afternoon.

The annual event, in its 24th year, features eight teams from the Western Maryland, Baltimore and Washington areas competing for a championship.

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In addition to the No. 1 Panthers, the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference champion, the field includes No. 2 McDonogh, No. 10 and B Conference champion Institute of Notre Dame and Mount Carmel.

While St. Frances, McDonogh and Mount Carmel have been to the tournament before, IND is making its debut. Penguins coach Robert DuBose was eager to take his team after hearing Mount Carmel coach Rob Long talk about the Cougars’ experience the last couple years.

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“Rob said that his girls don’t really get a chance to play or hang out with the A Conference girls, and for them to get a chance to hang out with the St. Frances and the McDonogh players last year, that just went a long with his players,” Dubose said.

The social side of the tournament, which includes a pasta dinner and a teen dance, is a big draw for the players.

“That’s my favorite tournament,” St. Frances senior Nia Clouden said, “because all the teams are in the same hotel and everybody gets to hang out. They provide food and they have the party. It’s a good atmosphere and the people are nice. The competition is good, too.”

The Panthers appear to be the favorite again this year although, should they play McDonogh — which would be in the title game Sunday — it would be their fourth matchup this season. While St. Frances beat the Eagles for the title last year, McDonogh beat the Panthers in the third-place game two years ago. The rest of the field includes Good Counsel, New Hope, St. James and Bishop Walsh.

In Thursday’s opening round, McDonogh plays Bishop Walsh at 3:15 p.m., St. Frances plays Mt. Carmel at 6:15 p.m. and IND meets New Hope at 8 p.m.

For DuBose, whose team is moving to the A Conference next season, the possibility of playing A Conference competition was a big draw.

“The last couple years, I’ve been looking into it,” he said, “and I didn’t feel comfortable going to a tournament without having my backcourt set the way it was this year. I want to have fun, but I want to compete. My goal was always to go up to the A Conference and this is good for my girls, one, to enjoy the end of the season and for my seniors to out with a treat, go out with a bang, and, two, for the underclassmen to figure out what they need to do this offseason to prepare to play against a St. Frances or a McDonogh next year. For me, it’s more fun for the kids, but at the same time, I can look into the future.”

The players also compete in a 3-point shooting contest — won last year by St. Frances’ Delicia Pinnick and the year before by McDonogh’s Taleah Dixon — and a free-throw shooting contest.

Many awards are handed out at the end of the tournament. Last season, McDonogh’s Angel Reese was the Most Outstanding Player and McDonogh’s Kayla Liles was the Best Defensive Player. Mount Carmel’s Ayana Brim won the individual sportsmanship award. All will be back this week.

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