MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

The top two seeds in the Baltimore Catholic League Tournament, which opens this evening, St. Frances Academy and Mount St. Joseph, will make their return to the 60th Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament March 10-12 at Bobcat Arena on the campus of Frostburg State University, as the ACIT itself returns for the first time since 2019 due to the two-year COVID-19 pandemic hiatus.

The first ACIT game in three years, Thursday, March 10, 4 p.m., will feature St. Frances (31-6) and Bishop McNamara (21-4) of Forestville, runner-up of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. At 5:45 p.m., DeMatha Catholic (18-7) of Hyattsville and the WCAC, the reigning ACIT champion (2019) and 25-time tournament champion, will take on host school Bishop Walsh School of Cumberland, the Spartans having finished their first season in the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference.

In Game 3, 7:30 p.m., the No. 25 team in the country, according to the USA Today Super Top 25, Long Island Lutheran (18-5) of Glen Head, N.Y., makes New York’s first ACIT appearance since 1977 when it takes on seven-time ACIT champion Gonzaga (17-8) of Washington and the WCAC. The final game of the opening night, scheduled to tip off at 9:15 p.m., will pit the Gaels of Mount St. Joseph (25-5) and the BCL and former ACIT champion Paul VI (26-4) of Chantilly, Va., the WCAC champion and the No. 22-ranked team in the country, according to USA Today.

Paul VI, which defeated McNamara in the WCAC final, 43-42, on Monday is the top-ranked team in the DMV according to the Washington Post poll, while McNamara is No. 3, DeMatha No. 6 and Gonzaga No. 8.

St. Frances is the BCL regular-season champion for the fifth season in a row and will make its 13th tournament appearance, the previous one being in 2019. The Panthers were selected to the 2020 ACIT before the tournament’s cancelation the day before the event was to begin. St. Frances has made three trips to the ACIT title game (1996-97, 2009) and won the tournament in 1996 and remains the only other BCL team to win the title other than Calvert Hall, who sealed the 1982 national championship with an ACIT finals win over DeMatha.

Mount St. Joseph, which finished second in the BCL regular season, makes its league-record 17th ACIT appearance and the first since 2019. MSJ has reached the finals three times (1971, 2006, 2017).

The Gaels defeated Mount Carmel, 63-60, on Sunday for their second straight MIAA A Championship, giving head coach Pat Clatchey his 750th career win in his 30th season as the Mount St. Joe coach.

St. Frances coach Nicholas Myles, who led the Panthers to their record fifth consecutive regular-season title with a 12-2 league mark, repeated as the recipient of the BCL’s Ray Mullis Coach of the Year Award. St. Frances senior Cortez Johnson is the league’s Cokey Robertson Most Improved Player of the Year.

Myles was named the Mullis Coach of the Year for the second straight season and for the third time in his career at St. Frances. Johnson averaged 11 points and seven rebounds per game for the Panthers. He is the second St. Frances player to earn the Robertson award, joining Tairik Johnson (2015-16).

The All-BCL first team includes St. Frances senior Bryce Lindsay, Mount St. Joseph sophomore Bryson Tucker and Mount St. Joseph junior Amani Hansberry.

St. Frances sophomore Daquan Davis and junior Carlton Carrington were named to the second team.

Top-seeded St. Frances hosts No. 8 Calvert Hall this evening in the BCL tournament, while the No. 2 Gaels host No. 7 Loyola.

The BCL has a half-century history with the ACIT, as at least one school has been selected each year from the league since 1972, including multiple teams each year starting in 2008. Including this year’s selections, the BCL has brought 82 teams to the ACIT since the league’s first season in 1971-72, and BCL schools have made 10 appearances in the ACIT championship game with two titles.

Overall, BCL-affiliated schools have 92 ACIT appearances (including this year) in the 60 tournaments with 13 title game appearances and three titles (Towson Catholic in 1962) since the ACIT began in 1961.

Following ACIT first-round games on Thursday, March 10, championship and consolation semifinals will be Friday, March 11 starting at 4 p.m. On Championship Saturday, March 12, games begin at 3 p.m.

Tickets each day are $10 for adults and $8 for students and will be available at the door of Bobcat Arena. All games will be broadcast on Magic 100.5-FM and online at cumberlandsmagic.com.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT