St. Frances Academy won its third straight Baltimore Catholic League tournament championship March 1 with an 81-65 victory over Mount St. Joseph. (Phil Surdel/Special to the Review)
Pat Clatchey joked that he might attend commencement exercises at St. Frances Academy this spring, just to see Adrian “Ace” Baldwin walk off the stage with a diploma and out of the Baltimore Catholic League for good.
“I’m glad he’s graduating,” said, Clatchey, the basketball coach of Mount St. Joseph High School, which had a share of the record for BCL tournament titles until Baldwin came along.
The slick guard, who’s headed to Virginia Commonwealth, packed 12 of his 23 points into the fourth quarter, and collected 10 rebounds and five assists, all game highs, as the Panthers scored the game’s first nine points and never trailed en route to an 81-65 victory over the Gaels in the title game of the 49th annual BCL tournament March 1.
It was the Panthers’ third straight title and 10th overall, as another rough-and-tumble renewal of the area’s best rivalry brought the largest crowd of the winter to Loyola University Maryland’s Reitz Arena.
“In the history of St. Frances, Ace has got to be right up there with Mark Karcher,” said Panther coach Nick Myles. “We were 16-18 when he was a freshman, and he put the program back into the national spotlight.”
Baldwin won his third straight tournament MVP award. Karcher was the last to do, in 1995-97. The only other player to reach that plateau in BCL history was Rodney Monroe of St. Maria Goretti, 1985-87.
For his next trick, Baldwin will attempt to match another feat of Karcher and lead St. Frances Academy to a title at the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament (ACIT). No BCL team has won it all at Frostburg State since Karcher was a junior, in 1996.
This year the ACIT expanded its geographic footprint and trimmed the BCL to one invitation. After Mount St. Joseph improved to 2-1 on the season against St. Frances Academy in the title game of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament, it appeared that the wrong team might be heading west, but the Panthers made amends, starting with an early practice and bed check the day before the BCL final.
St. Frances Academy (13-1 in the BCL regular season, 38-4 overall) led 9-0 in the third minute, 41-28 at the half and then by 20, at 78-58. Another 9-0 run produced that gap, the centerpiece being a Baldwin three-pointer from deep on the left wing, from nearly the same spot where he beat Goretti in last year’s title game.
As a sophomore, Baldwin was surrounded by a slew of veterans who checked Mount St. Joseph’s Jalen Smith, now a star at Maryland. As a junior, he dealt with the ill health of his father, who later succumbed to cancer.
“This season was more fun,” said Baldwin, who is all about that, to the point of rolling up his shorts so that his uniform appeared to come from the 1970s. “It’s more comfortable that way.”
St. Frances Academy had four other players in double figures, including Jamal West, the BCL Player of the Year, who went 8-10 at the free throw line.
When the season began, the Panthers’ roster included three players from its football program, which recruits well beyond Baltimore. The departure of Jordan Toles to national champion LSU and Jamal Banks to Wake Forest on early admissions meant more playing time for Andre Roy, a 6-8 sophomore offensive lineman.
“Jordan meant so much to our program, he deserved to finish out the way he wanted,” Myles said. “I told my coaches, if we complain about a kid going to college early, we’re in the wrong business.”
Baldwin and West were joined on the all-tournament team by Mount St. Joseph’s Jason Edokpayi and D’Angelo Stines, Mitch Fischer of Loyola Blakefield and Deon Perry of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Edokpayi had earlier been named the Most Improved Player in the BCL, a big reason the Gaels went 12-2 in the league, 29-6 overall. The Mount St. Joseph program had been the last to win three straight tournaments, in 2012-14, during the Phil Booth Jr. era.
“Today stinks, but we had a championship season and we get to hang a banner,” Clatchey said, of the MIAA tournament title.
Email Paul McMullen at pmcmullen@CatholicReview.org