Form held in the semifinals of the 25th Baltimore Catholic League basketball tournament last night, as top-ranked St. Frances and No. 2 seed Calvert Hall advanced before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,600 at Goucher College, setting up a rematch of last year's final.
St. Frances (26-4) rode the exceptional skills of senior guard Alphonso Jones and junior forward Mark Karcher, who combined for 45 points and 12 assists in an 83-73 victory over No. 5 seed Cardinal Gibbons (22-12).
In the first semifinal, Juan Dixon scored 24 points and fourth-ranked Calvert Hall (25-7) used a 14-0 spurt midway through the second half en route to a 75-63 win over Mount St. Joseph (14-13).
The Cardinals and Panthers will meet for the championship tonight at 7:30 at Goucher College. St. Frances topped Calvert Hall, 45-34, for the title last year.
The Panthers used the scoring of Karcher, who had 16 of his 20 points in the opening half, to build a 32-25 lead.
Then the lightning-quick Jones took over in the second half, scoring 21 of his 25 points as St. Frances built a 61-44 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
"We came in with a team concept," St. Frances coach William Wells said. "The last three games teams have been showing us a sagging zone, and our plan was to keep the ball moving. I think we did it pretty well."
Karcher handed out eight assists, including five in the fourth quarter, and grabbed seven rebounds. Jones had four assists.
Sophomore center Shawn Hampton scored 14 for the Panthers and junior Darren Byrd added 11.
L Josh Davalli led Gibbons with 24 and Keith Phoebus added 22.
All five starters scored in double figures for Calvert Hall, with Dixon leading the way. Patrick Ngongba added 13, Antoine Peoples and Sam Anyan scored 12 each and Aaron Herbert added 10, including eight free throws in the fourth quarter.
"You're not going to lose much when that happens," Cardinals coach Mark Amatucci said of the double-figure scorers, "especially when we play defense the way we did."
Leading 45-38 with 1:50 left in the third quarter, the Cardinals put on a defensive stand that shut out the Gaels for the next 3:46 while the lead increased to 57-38 with six minutes left in the game.
"Defensively we were able to take away their inside game," said Amatucci. "And that forced them into a perimeter game."
The Gaels made a late run in the fourth quarter, battling within 68-63 after a three-pointer by Aaron Bowles, who led St. Joe with 17 points, with 1:05 left.
"We just want to take care of the ball in that situation," Amatucci said. "But we turned the ball over too much. We didn't handle their pressure."
But four free throws and a three-pointer by Dixon in the final minute increased the final margin to 12.
Calvert Hall had used an 8-0 run late in the first quarter to move on top 16-11 and held an 18-14 lead after one quarter.
The Cardinals outscored St. Joe 10-4 in the first four minutes of the second quarter to build a 28-18 lead. And when Gaels center Corsley Edwards picked up his third foul, things looked even worse for St. Joe.
But the Gaels' defense picked up in intensity and forced four turnovers in the next three minutes, cutting the Carinals' lead to 28-25 with 55 seconds left in the half.
Then two free throws by Jason Gardner and a fast-break layup by Dixon put the Cardinals ahead 32-26 at intermission.