The St. Frances boys basketball team was far from its best for stretches Wednesday night against visiting St. Maria Goretti.
But the No. 1 Panthers were impressive in showing two things: How quickly they can take over and the ability to close out a game.
Taking hold of the game with an explosive stretch in the final five minutes of the first half and then doing the little things in the end, St. Frances claimed a 57-52 win over the visiting Gaels in Baltimore Catholic League play.
A 19-2 run at the end of the first half spilled into the third quarter for the Panthers — turning a double-digit deficit into a double-digit advantage to take hold of a game — and All-Metro junior point guard Adrian Baldwin helped seal the win with big rebounds and key points in the final two minutes. Senior guard Chad Brown hit consecutive 3-pointers in the second quarter spurt and Baldwin (13 points, eight assists and seven steals) sealed the win with a key basket, two big defensive rebounds and two free throws in the final two minutes.
St. Frances improved to 5-1 overall, rebounding from a 67-58 loss against Virginia-based Paul VI, and 4-0 in the BCL. The Gaels (5-2) are 3-1 in league play.
“We just stayed focused and that’s what it’s all about,” Baldwin said. “We had people coming off the bench and playing hard. [In the closing minutes], I just stayed engaged, didn’t let anybody get to me and just stayed in the game.”
The visitors were beating the Panthers at their own game at the start, playing aggressive defense and converting at the other end behind the inside play of forward Abdou Tsimbila, who finished with 19 points.
His inside basket with 5:28 to play in the first half gave the Gaels a 21-11 advantage. The rest of the half and the third quarter belonged to the Panthers.
Fueled by the 3s from Brown, strong inside play from junior forward Jamal West (13 points, 10 rebounds) and a frenzied defense that limited Goretti to six third-quarter points, the Panthers took a 42-30 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Gaels rallied behind R.J. Blakney (20 points) to pull within 50-47 with 1:47 left to play, but the Panthers held firm.
Baldwin scored on a basket in the lane to make it 52-47 and he and Jordan Toles (10 points) each made two free throws to seal the win.
St. Frances coach Nick Myles is accustomed to seeing Baldwin play at his best in crunch time.
“That’s what leaders do. It wasn’t his best game, but he’s a winner and knows how to win,” said Myles, who also praised the work of Brown and senior Tayquan Busby off the bench.
SMG – Blakney 20, Edwards 5, Golek 6, Searcy 2, Tsimbila 17, Myrie 2. Totals: 17 14-41 52
SF – Jones 2, Baldwin 13, Busby 2, Murphy 6, West 13, Toles 10, Alexander 3, Brown 8. Totals: 22 12-25 57