The message from the coaches was simple and direct: Go harder.
The No. 2 Cardinals responded with a 15-3 run to open the third quarter and finished strong to pull away for a 69-62 home win over the No. 7 Panthers in the regular-season finale for both teams. The win ended a run of eight straight wins by St. Frances over Calvert Hall, dating back to the 2010-11 season.
Calvert Hall, behind a 21-point performance from junior guard Drew Edwards, finished the regular season at 26-4 with the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and Baltimore Catholic League playoffs approaching.
The Cardinals (14-4 in the MIAA and 11-3 in the BCL) earned a first-round bye as the second seed in this week’s MIAA playoffs. On Thursday, they will host the winner of the quarterfinal game between third-seeded St. Frances (22-11 overall, 12-6 in the MIAA, 8-6 in the BCL) and sixth-seeded Mount Carmel.
After getting back in Sunday’s game with the dominant third quarter — Edwards scored nine of the team’s 19 points to give Calvert Hall a 46-45 lead heading into the fourth quarter — the Cardinals proved they wanted it more in the closing minutes of the game.
Senior guard Sean Mayberry hit two important jumpers, Edwards added a 3-pointer, and junior center Evan Phoenix hit a reverse layup and added two free throws. Defensively, the Cardinals kept the Panthers to just four made free throws in the final 3:08, and senior forward Chris Wallace (14 points) sealed the victory with an emphatic dunk at the buzzer that represented Calvert Hall’s determined play in the second half.
“It’s just a great win. The kids played hard, a great second half,” Calvert Hall coach John Bauersfeld said. “We were super tentative in the first half — I think our nerves got to us a little bit, we hadn’t beaten them in awhile — and just came in and got after it.
“We just said you got to go out and play harder, you got to play less tentative in a not-so-nice way. And you just have to match their intensity and their physicality. They’re going to come at you and you got to match that. You’re either going to take it and lay down or fight back a little bit, and that’s what we did.”
The Panthers, playing without injured sophomore guard Khalil Richards and coming off upset losses to Loyola and Mount Carmel, ended the first half on a 8-1 run. A three-point play from Daquan Bracey (11 points) with 1:33 left before halftime provided the big spark for St. Frances.
After the Cardinals rallied in the third quarter to take their first lead since the opening basket, St. Frances stayed close throughout the fourth quarter behind senior forward Dwayne Morgan, who scored nine of his team-high 19 points in the final frame.
But after his jumper gave the Panthers a 58-55 lead with 3:51 to play, the Cardinals took charge at both ends.
Mayberry, coming off the bench, hit a baseline jumper to close the gap to 58-57, and then, after Edwards’ 3-pointer gave Calvert Hall the lead for good, 60-59, Mayberry hit another jumper to make it 62-59.
“It was a huge win. Coach got into us a little bit at halftime and … we knew what we had to do,” Edwards said. “It was a goal, we had to beat them and we knew what we had to do. We wiped the score off the board and we just played.”
Junior Nico Clareth added 13 points for the Cardinals, who also got eight each from Phoenix and Mayberry.
“For us, it’s a big momentum builder because we haven’t beaten these guys for awhile,” Bauersfeld said. “So much of the game is mental, just believing you can beat the team in front of you, and that’s what we did.”