St. Frances raced out to an 11-0 lead in the first five minutes of play on Wednesday night in East Baltimore and despite several spirited runs by Mount St. Joseph, the Panthers held on  down the stretch to defeat the Gaels, 55-47, to advance to the MIAA A Conference finals at UMBC on Sunday.

Shakir Brown poured in seven first quarter points, and Eddie Tarver added five as the Panthers took a commanding 14-4 lead after eight minutes of play.

The Gaels answered in the second stanza with a blistering run of their own to cut the Panther lead to 22-20 just before the half ended, but Tarver hit a buzzer beater with 1.2 on the clock  to give coach Mark Karcher’s team a five point lead at intermission. The Gael comeback was led by sophomore sensation Kameron Williams, who had eight second quarter markers.

The teams traded buckets evenly in the third quarter, and Saint Frances held a 37-32 lead at the end of three.

When Dan Nardolilo hit a tough all out hustle layup for the Mount with 3:26 to go in regulation, it looked like the Gaels would stage a dramatic come-from-behind victory, but it was not to be.

R.J. Williams, who has stepped up for the Panthers all season at crunch time, answered the call again, hitting nine consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter to keep his team in the lead.

Karcher said it was a team win.

“I told the guys that even after we lost some games during the year that we need to do all of this to get to the championship game,” said Karcher.  “The guys really understood that.

“We had a good team effort, and we had some good bench play.”

Karcher singled out the play of Williams, Lewis and Tarver.  Tarver and Brown each finished with 15 points, and Williams added 11.  Lewis was a factor on defense, swatting away six St. Joe shots that might have made a difference.

Maurice White hit two huge free throws for the Panthers after Nardolilo brought the Gaels to within two, and Williams stroked five free throws in a row to help secure the lead and the win. White punctuated the win with a monster-slam near the end of regulation.

Williams led the Gaels with 12 points and David Windsor had 10 to keep his team in the game, but the sharpshooting senior fouled out with 2:03 to go, which allowing the Panthers to concentrate on stopping Williams.

Sunday’s tip at the RAC Arena will be at 2:00 p.m., which is a change from the originally scheduled time of 3:00 p.m.  Tickets for the contest are $8 each and the doors will open at 1:00 p.m.

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St. Frances 55, Mount St. Joseph 47
Mount St. Joseph
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Mount St. Joseph: Stephenson 7, Lawrence 3, Windsor 10, Morton 2, Booth 6, K. Williams 12, Long 2, Nardollio 5.
St. Frances: RJ Williams 11, Brown 15, Lewis 6, Forney 2, White 6.