MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Long Island Lutheran, ranked No. 25 in this week’s USA Today Sports Super 25, will be one of two nationally-ranked teams playing in this weekend’s Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament – company the likes of which host school Bishop Walsh knows all about keeping, as the 60th ACIT will finally tip off Thursday after its two-year COVID-19 pandemic hiatus.

Long Island Lutheran, a storied New York program and eight-time New York Federation champion, will make its first ACIT appearance and will be the first New York participant since Monsignor Farrell played in the 1977 event at old Allegany High School.

Paul VI, of Chantilly, Va., the top team in the Washington, D.C. area, champions of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) and the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA), is the highest nationally-ranked team in the field, No. 20 by USA Today, which is something the Spartans know all about.

Bishop Walsh is in its first season as a member of the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference in which five of the eight Nike Elite conference teams are ranked in the top eight of the USA Today national poll, including No. 1-ranked Sunrise Christian of Bel Aire, Kan. The others are No. 3 IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.; No. 5. Montverde, Fla., Academy; No. 6. La Lumiere, La Porte, Ind.; and No. 8 Oak Hill Academy, Mouth of Wilson, Va.

The first ACIT game in three years, Thursday, March 10, 4 p.m., will feature St. Frances (33-7) and Bishop McNamara (21-4) of Forestville, runner-up of the WCAC. At 5:45 p.m., the WCAC’s DeMatha Catholic (18-7) of Hyattsville, the reigning ACIT champion (2019) and 25-time tournament champion, will take on Bishop Walsh School of Cumberland (7-13).

In Game 3, 7:30 p.m., Long Island Lutheran (18-5) of Glen Head, N.Y., plays seven-time ACIT champion Gonzaga (18-9) of Washington and the WCAC, while the final game of the opening night, scheduled for 9:15 p.m., will feature the Baltimore Catholic League champion Mount St. Joseph Gaels (31-5) and former ACIT champion Paul VI (29-4), the WCAC champion.

Mount St. Joe defeated St. Frances Sunday, 66-56, for the 51st BCL Tournament championship and is the top-ranked team in the Baltimore Sun poll as well as the MIAA A Conference champion, while the No. 3 Panthers took the BCL regular-season title for an unprecedented fifth consecutive time.

Long Island Lutheran, or LuHi, is led this season by 6-foot-2, 165-pound senior point guard Jayden Pierre, who has committed to Providence, having also received offers from Minnesota and Xavier.

“Something that really stands out is the experience of (the Providence) staff and their history with players at my position,” Pierre told Adam Zagoria, who reports on Providence recruiting. “I feel like they are really good with point guards and know what it takes to get them to the next level. While on the visit, the family feel that the team had was something that I enjoyed. How together everyone was, from the staff to the players.

“I’m ready to bring in my leadership skills along with my floor general skills. Also, I feel like I win everywhere I go, so I will be bringing in my winning attitude and work ethic.”

LuHi coach John Buck said, “Jayden projects to be an excellent lead guard at the next level. He can both score the ball and crest open shots for teammates. He competes every time he steps on the floor, is coachable, and is a great teammate. I love how he defends as well.”

The Spartans are putting the close on a season of transition in more ways than they had planned, and a first season in an Elite Basketball national conference. All told, they’ve held their own.

Travis Roberts (12.7 ppg), Mike Williams (12.7), Jason Rivera (11.1) and TJ Robinson (10.2) have been the top BW scorers in NIBC play, while Williams and Rivera were the leaders in rebounding and assists.

Cumberland junior Mikey Allen, a top perimeter threat, has already received an offer from the University of Maine.

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