If St. Mary’s game plan for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference championship game against Chapelgate Christian Academy on Sunday at UMBC’s Chesapeake Employees Insurance Arena was to get the ball to Aidan Harris, it was one that worked extremely well in the 70-57 Saints’ triumph.
The 6-foot-7 senior small forward is uber-dynamic when he’s hot — and he was on fire early, staking the No. 11 Saints to a 13-4 advantage by scoring nine of their points midway through the opening period that ended with the top seeds holding a 22-13 advantage.
Harris, who finished with game-high 31 points, notched his 11th point of the first half by netting a soft jumper from the baseline on an inbound play to open the second quarter.
The St. Francis University (Pa.) commit would continue his torrid streak by scoring in the paint, swishing a three from the baseline and converting a layup with 5:29 left in the second quarter to finish the half with 18 points.
Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets were undaunted by Harris’ assault, carving into a 33-20 deficit by going on a 9-2 run fueled by senior point guard Jaylen Marbley, 6-foot-7 senior center, senior guard Zef, Fuanya and senior shooting guard Julian Ludwig.
Although St. Mary’s still led, 35-29, at the intermission, momentum was pushing Chapelgate toward cutting the Saints’ cushion to 37-32 early in the third period on a bucket by senior small forward Jevon Davis.
Unfortunately for the second seeds, Harris had another torrid streak in the third quarter as the defending champs ended up outscoring the Yellow Jackets, 21-11, with the Saints’ star adding nine more points to his ledger.
With a 56-40 lead entering the final period, the Saints (24-7) cruised to the repeat title after subduing the Yellow Jackets for the third time this winter while running their B Conference mark to 42-1 over the last two seasons.
Harris deflected credit for the win, praising his team’s ‘D’ for its significant contributions to the cause.
”It all starts with defense,” said Harris, whose season-high 35-point scoring effort came against Concordia Prep in late January. “It wasn’t about going to me. I don’t take credit for the whole game. We’re very proud of what we have done (winning back-to-back titles). It was a team effort.”
Although he was the only St. Mary’s player to score in double-digits, three of Harris’ teammates totaled nine points each — senior guard Ajani Lomax, senior small forward Casey Smith and senior guard Grady Wolfe — while senior power forward Jaden Bryant totaled eight markers.
Moreover, as Harris pointed out, defense was also a key to the victory, especially the job Lomax, with occasional help from Smith, did on limiting the dangerous Ludwig to three points.
In the end, though, Harris took center stage for his exploits on the offensive end of the floor.
”When we were here last year, there was a point in the game when he kind of sacrificed,” St. Mary’s coach Trey Quinn said. “He had four or five assists in a row to get us going. This year, he stepped into a role where he knew he was going to have to score the ball for us. His efficiency was phenomenal. I don’t think he took a bad shot. when you put a lot of work in and make great decisions…..big players make big plays in big games. That’s what we kept telling him coming into this.”
Wolfe, a formidable 6-foot-3 standout in the backcourt, and the fleet-footed Lomax also earned kudos from Quinn.
”Grady is just pure toughness — that’s who he is,” Quinn added. “He makes all the plays you need to win games, and he doesn’t always get a ton of the glory. But they have two really, really good guards (Marbley and Ludwig), and Ajani really stepped in there and guarded (Ludwig). We said, ‘find (Ludwig) and try to keep (Marbley) out of the paint,’ and those two guys really stepped up and impacted the game defensively.”
Quinn said beating Chapelgate (15-5) is no easy task.
”Those guys play as hard as anyone we played against this year,” he said. “That’s why they won a lot of games — because of how hard they play. We just tried to match that energy coming into the second half, and just battle — battle on the glass, battle for loose balls. That’s a testament to (Chapelgate). They do a great job of playing as hard as you can play.”
MIAA B CONFERENCE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
(AT UMBC’S CHESAPEAKE EMPLOYEES INSURANCE ARENA)
NO. 11 ST. MARY’S 70, CHAPELGATE CHRISTIAN ACADEMY 57
CCA 13 16 11 17 — 57
SM 22 13 21 14 — 70
Chapelgate- Jaylan Marbley 16, Julian Ludwig 3, Jevon Davis 9, Zef Fuanya 12, Timi Akisanya 17. Totals 24 6-18 57.
St. Mary’s- Ajani Lomax 9, Casey Smith 9, Grady Wolfe 9, Jaden Bryant 8, Aidan Harris 31, Mason Hopper 4. Totals 29 7-16 70.