With host Mount St. Joseph cruising to an 18-4 lead against Archbishop Spalding after one quarter of play in Thursday’s MIAA A Conference basketball semifinal, the boisterous Gaels’ student section started to chant “warm up the bus.”

While the jeer was undoubtedly meant to rattle the Cavaliers further, it does, however, apply to Mount St. Joseph, which is headed to UMBC’s CEI Arena Sunday to compete for a third straight league tourney crown following a 70-56 win over the No. 9 Cavaliers in Southwest Baltimore.

The Gaels (35-3 overall), ranked 16th nationally by MaxPreps, will face second-ranked St. Frances, an 89-84 winner over Mount Carmel Thursday, for the MIAA A crown, Sunday at 5 p.m. Mount St. Joseph defeated Mount Carmel last year, and St. Frances in 2020.

The 2020-21 MIAA A season was canceled due to COVID-19.

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“Trying to repeat,” said Gaels senior guard Ace Valentine, who poured in a game-high 20 points to go along with a handful of creative assists in transition. “That’s the main goal. Trying to repeat what we did, winning both the MIAA and the BCL. Just got to step up and do it again.”

Similar to its quarterfinal win against Loyola Blakefield Tuesday, Mount St. Joseph raced out to a huge first quarter lead as it forced the youthful Cavaliers (15-17) into eight first quarter turnovers. Many of those miscues turned into transition points en route to that 18-4 advantage that grew to as much as 21 points early in the second quarter on a 3-pointer from the right baseline by DJ Wingfield.

“Tuesday against Loyola, that’s kind of what we did. We got a pretty good lead, 21-3, I think, in the first quarter and that kind of helped us carry the momentum into (the rest of) the game,” said Gaels senior forward Amani Hansberry, who produced 14 points and nine rebounds. “That was really one of our biggest goals coming out: set the tone. Punch them in the mouth first and keep them down.”

After the slow start, the Cavaliers battled behind the play of Malik Washington (14 points), Rolando Newton (10 points), and Elijah Barrett (nine points). Spalding akept things relatively interesting with a few scoring bursts to trim the deficit to 12 on a 3-point play by Newton with 2 minutes, 46 seconds left in the game.

“If we get some of those shots early, maybe it’s a different ballgame,” Spalding coach Josh Pratt said. “We’re not going to quit. We’re going to build on it. We’re going to play as hard as we can. We’re getting better every game. We’ve got young guys, and we’re going to fight to the end.”

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Despite that gritty attitude, it was not enough for the Cavaliers to overcome another balanced Gaels effort that included 15 points from Austin Abrams and 10 from Tyonne Farrell. The Gaels relentlessly attacked Spalding in transition while also executing their various halfcourt offensive sets to take leads of 37-20 at halftime and 51-34 going into the final eight minutes of action.

The Gaels put the finishing touches on the contest with a late 11-0 run to take a 70-49 lead with just under a minute to play, setting up another battle with rival St. Frances Sunday afternoon at UMBC.

Mount St. Joseph, winners of 19 straight, swept the Panthers, 62-59 and 82-64, during the regular season.

“The last two games, we’ve just been getting out in transition, rebounding, and getting stops,” Valentine said. “Our defense is creating our transition offense. We’re running and executing in transition and in our halfcourt offense. The chemistry is everywhere. We’re friends off the court, and it translates on the court. I just think it’s fun to play with your brothers … and get to do what you love on the court.”

MIAA A CONFERENCE SEMIFINAL

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NO. 1 MOUNT ST. JOSEPH 70, NO. 9 ARCHBISHOP SPALDING 56

Spalding - Malik Washington 14, Elijah Barrett 9, Rolando Newton 10, LeTre Yawn 2, John Farley 3, Jaylin Sykes 6, Terrence Moultrie 7, Damien Wilburn 4, Michael Lonergan 1. Totals 22 10-16 56.

Mount St. Joseph - Tyonne Farrell 10, Ryan Truitt 3, Ace Valentine 20, Austin Abrams 15, Amani Hansberry 14, DJ Wingfield 5, Joe Green 3. Totals 28 7-10 70.

Spalding 4 16 14 22 - 56

Mount St. Joseph 18 19 14 19 - 70

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