Get ready for St. Frances-Calvert Hall III.
For the third consecutive year, the No. 2 Panthers and No. 6 Cardinals will meet for the Catholic League tournament championship. Both won semifinal contests in convincing fashion yesterday before a standing-room only crowd of more than 2,000 at Goucher College.
The Cardinals avenged a loss to No. 12 Loyola, routing the Dons, 71-47, and St. Frances advanced to the finals for the fourth straight year, defeating Towson Catholic, 77-55. Tonight's championship starts at 7: 30.
It will be the first time in the 26 years of the tournament that the same teams have played in the finals three consecutive years. St. Frances won the previous title game showdowns, 45-34 in 1995 and 71-67 last year.
The Cardinals (26-5) got 25 points from senior shooting guard Juan Dixon and 12 from Antoine Peoples in the opening semifinal contest. Reggie Gray and Carlos Sommariba each scored 12 for Loyola (21-10).
In the regular-season finale on Feb. 21, Loyola stunned the Cardinals, rallying from a 50-45 deficit with 17 seconds remaining for a 52-50 triumph to clinch the MIAA A Conference championship.
Not only did Calvert Hall gain a measure of revenge, but also took a big step in earning an invitation to the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament at Frostburg State in two weeks as the Catholic League's representative. St. Frances won the tournament last year, and received an automatic invite as the defending champion.
Though the Cardinals are hoping for a bid, their main focus is winning the Catholic League tournament, something that has eluded them the past two years. Calvert Hall split its two regular-season meetings with St. Frances, winning, 61-59, at the University of Baltimore in January before the Panthers posted a 63-50 triumph at Calvert Hall last month.
"Right now, they [St. Frances] are the best team in the state," said Calvert Hall coach Mark Amatucci. "We have a shot, but we have to play an almost perfect game, I think."
Calvert Hall was nearly flawless last night against Loyola, scoring the game's first six points, then going on a 15-0 run to start the second quarter, building a 30-9 advantage.
The Cardinals' defense completely stifled Loyola, forcing five turnovers and seven straight missed shots. The Dons shot only 14-for-42 from the field.
Loyola was able to get as close as 36-25 early in the second half, but Dixon scored six straight points, four on layups after turnovers, putting Calvert Hall back comfortably ahead, 42-25.
"We ran for 32 minutes and that was the key," said Dixon, who was 11 of 12 from the free-throw line. "We didn't play with any intensity the last time, but we knew we had to play better #F defense and not allow Loyola to get into its half-court offense."
The second semifinal game was much of the same. The Panthers scored the game's first nine points and never trailed.
Mark Karcher led St. Frances (29-6) with 28 points and junior center Shawn Hampton added 18 and eight rebounds. Damien Hocker led Towson Catholic (18-13) with 12 points.
Karcher had 16 and Hampton contributed 10 in the first half as St. Frances led 33-21, using a 22-10 second-quarter surge.
"I thought we played terrible," said St. Frances coach William Wells, who will be seeking his fourth Catholic League Tournament title tonight.
"We played good defense, but at times, we got into personal grudges on the court. But we still did well."
Pub Date: 3/03/97