No. 1 seed Springfield Cathedral and No. 2 Malden Catholic punched their respective tickets, sweeping their first-round series.
ESPN Boston High Schools editor Scott Barboza has the highlights, along with the Three Stars of the night in this latest edition of "Super 8 Center":
(Video by Greg Story)
With all-state talents Ashley Russell, Bridget Herlihy, and Molly Reagan leading the way over the last four years, the Braintree Girls basketball team can at the very least be said to be going through a "Golden Age" on the court. And if the Wamps manage to hoist the MIAA Division 1 state championship trophy for the second consecutive season in a couple weeks, they will be recognized as a dynasty for the ages.
Since falling to Central Catholic in the state semifinals two years ago, Braintree has not dropped a single in-state contest. The Wamps only loss during that span came against New York-based power Christ The King in January 2014.
Head coach Kristen McDonnell, now in her sixth season at the helm, credits her three superstars for changing the culture at Braintree.
Thinking back to their freshman year, McDonnell said, "[Russell, Reagan, and Herlihy] had been part of winning programs their entire lives, and they expected to win the second the stepped on the court. They set a precedent of winning that we hadn’t always had here."
She continued, "To have that much talent in the same grade, and to have it at different positions, was so unique, and the nice part about it is they got each other involved. They were never about themselves. They don’t care about individual statistics or accolades, it’s really all about them team."
Come September, Russell will be playing as a point guard at the University of Pennsylvania, Herlihy may face her former teammate as a forward on the Villanova Wildcats, and Reagan will play a key role as a center at Liberty University in Virginia. But for now, Braintree’s "Big Three" is focused on the singular goal of finishing their high school career with back-to-back state championships.
What Doesn’t Kill You...
Playing at a neutral site (Newton North High) on February 20, Braintree’s incredible winning streak nearly came to an end at the hands of the second-ranked team in the state.
Up 53-46 with 3:35 remaining in the finals of the Comcast/Arbella Classic, No. 2 ranked Bishop Feehan (23-2) looked poised to supplant No. 1 Braintree (24-0) as the top team in Massachusetts.
Yet the Wamps never panicked. They fought back to take a 57-55 lead in the final seconds, and remained focused after Feehan captain Maddie Jolin went the length of the court for a layup that sent the game into overtime.
"We’re really calm in that situation, because we trust each other, and we know that as long as we play our game, we’re able to get back into it," Russell said about the team’s state of mind towards the end of that contest.
Bridget Herlihy added, "We’re confident in what we can do. None of us were worried."
Even McDonnell said she felt like the game was just a few possessions away despite the fact that her team had been down nearly entire second half.
That confidence was well placed, as Braintree went on an 11-0 run to start overtime, and took home the tournament’s first place trophy with a 72-58 win. The Wamps outscored the Shamrocks 24-4 since facing that sizeable deficit with three and a half minutes left to play, but it wasn’t the first time this group has overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
Russell recalled how her team lost in the state semifinals at TD Garden to end their season during her freshman year. She wistfully acknowledged that their sophomore campaign ended the same way, with a loss to Central Catholic at the Garden.
Last year, The Big Three faced their greatest challenge before they even made it to the Garden, finding themselves down by 23 points early in the D1 South sectional final against Newton North. Trailing by 14 at halftime, the team’s leaders decided that they weren’t going to come up short for a third straight year.
"Before the coaches went into the locker room, we could hear the players talking, and they were saying all the right things," McDonnell recalled about that fateful intermission. "They were very calm, very positive, and completely focused on what they could do better in the next half. In other situations, people might have gotten down on each other, but no matter what, they had a cautious optimism, and seemed to believe that they could correct the mistakes and come back."
Of course, the Wamps overcame that deficit, defeated Lynn English in the state semifinals, and handled Westford Academy 57-46 to bring the program its first state title since 2006.
As the old saying goes, you have to hate to lose before you can love to win. McDonnell supported that theory when she looked back on how her players came up just short during their first two postseason campaigns.
"Getting that close, and then not being able to reach the final goal is heartbreaking, and I think that feeling marinated with them during the offseason," said McDonnell. "So they came back very determined last season, and it almost seemed like a business trip to the Garden. I could tell that no matter what, we weren’t going to fall short."
Some teams regress after winning a championship, but Braintree is showing no let-up during an undefeated 2014-15 campaign.
In a late December tournament in their home gym, the Wamps exacted some revenge with a 69-52 win at Christ The King, then edged Archbishop Williams 54-47 in tough defensive battle. Since then, Braintree has won 17 consecutive games by at least ten points, including dominant victories over Brockton (71-44) and Newton South (67-33) in their first two state tournament games.
How have they been able to remain so focused every night? For The Big Three, it certainly helps that McDonnell constantly is reminding them about how the opposition will be motivated by the appeal of taking down the number one seed in the state.
"Our coach points out every year that we have a target on our back going into the season," said Russell. "It’s probably good, because you get everyone’s best shot in every game, and I think that just makes us better in turn."
Thinking back to a realization she had when the Wamps were down big to Newton North, Herlihy recalled, "The whole season we had been hearing, 'Oh this is your year, you’re going to win states this year.' And I think that was the moment we realized that nothing was guaranteed, and that we had to work hard for everything."
Reagan pointed out that they had already defeated Newton North twice that season, and added that "It goes to show you that you can’t take anything for granted. You can’t come into any game with the expectation that you’re going to win. You have to prove it on the floor."
That attitude allowed the Wamps to keep their undefeated season alive with an overtime win over Bishop Feehan, and has carried them to the D1 South Sectional finals, where they will once again meet Feehan on a neutral court, at Taunton High this Friday evening.
Braintree basketball is truly a family affair.
Russell’s older sister, Taylor, played for McDonnell before graduating two years ago, and her cousin, Maura, is an integral member of the current team. Herlihy’s younger sister, Brianna, is quickly becoming one the best players in the state as a junior, and will likely continue the tradition of success after The Big Three move on.
However, when they were just beginning to play basketball in fourth grade, neither Herlihy nor Russell could remember the high school program being quite as involved in the community as it is currently.
Nowadays, McDonnell and her players run several clinics, and summer camps for the local youth, which Russell said, "Gives the team a more community-oriented feel."
"[McDonnell] makes everyone accountable, while also creating a community feel," added Herlihy. "We’re helping little kids learn, we’re learning ourselves, and she makes the game selfless the way she runs the program."
For McDonnell, making a positive impression on future Wamps goes beyond basketball.
"It’s a huge part of the community," she said about the clinics. "These kids do a really good job getting out there, and setting a really good example, not just about how to play basketball as a team, but how to carry yourself, and how to have fun while you do it, and I think that’s really resonated with the community. It’s the nicest thing to watch kids aspire to be just like [The Big Three]."
The bond created by playing for a community that they’ve become such an ingrained part of has helped The Big Three on the court.
Reagan said, "We’ve known each other for more than 10 years. Every year that goes by, we spend so much time together that it does become a family. We’re all so close, and I think that helps a lot when we play, because we know each other’s tendencies."
As it stands, this group is part of one of the greatest girls basketball teams in the history of Massachusetts. But a fourth consecutive trip to the TD Garden, and a second consecutive state title, would cement their legacy.
"It would put a really nice exclamation point on what these kids have been able to do over the past four years," McDonnell said about potentially earning another championship. "We have a team mentality, and they’re so humble after every win, but it would be a really well deserved honor for them to go out on top."
Because they have been playing together on travel teams, and on the AAU circuit since they were seven years old, these three players have an incredible familiarity with each other that should continue to serve as an advantage in tense tournament games.
As McDonnell recognized, "The biggest challenge with this group is not to over coach them, because they make so many great reads off of each other. Their best quality is their reaction to the moment, and because they’ve played with each other for so long, they seem to have an innate understanding of where they’re going to be.
"I feel like we have a sixth sense as far as knowing where everyone’s going to be,” confirmed Herlihy. “I know what Ash [Russell] is going to do before she knows what she’s going to do. And Molly [Reagan] knows what I’m going to do before I do. So having that connection is extremely helpful."
The combination of that familiarity, as well as the experience gained from playing in so many big games, makes the Wamps a heavy favorite to win it all once again.
"I think freshman year we were just in awe. It’s so huge in the [TD Garden], there’s no depth perception, and it’s loud, but after playing there a few times you get accustomed to it," stated Herlihy.
The talented seniors are on one last mission for a state title, and whether they win their next three games, or fall to Bishop Feehan on Friday night, they will look back fondly on their time at Braintree High.
"Going out on top would mean more than the world," said Reagan. "And there’s so many things that being on this team has taught me that I know I’ll use in the future."
As Russell put it: "I’m going to cry when it’s over, but hopefully they are tears of joy."
ESPN Boston High Schools editor Brendan C. Hall and correspondent Malcolm Smith break down all of the action, and take a look at Saturday's slate of sectional finals.
(Video by Ben Cormier)
Division 1 North
Cambridge 78, Andover 72
Division 2 North
Danvers 65, Brighton 58
Division 2 South
Oliver Ames 72, Sandwich 62
Division 3 North
Pentucket 47, Greater Lawrence 41
Division 3 South
Norton 38, Norwell 32
Old Rochester 61, Wareham 58
Division 3 West
Hoosac Valley 45, Drury 42
Wahconah 53, Hampshire 48
Division 4 North
St. Clement 78, Pope John XXIII 75 (OT)
Division 1 North
Billerica 58, Beverly 30
Division 2 North
Watertown 49, Belmont 40
Division 2 South
Foxborough 54, Falmouth 40
Division 2 West
Longmeadow 75, Belchertown 70 (OT)
Division 3 North
Winthrop 47, St. Mary's (Lynn) 44
Division 3 South
Archbishop Williams 62, Rockland 44
Division 3 Central
Bellingham 42, Sutton 35
Tyngsborough 54, Millbury 42
Division 4 North
Fenway 51, New Mission 49
SUPER 8 FIRST ROUND
Malden Catholic 5, Franklin 0 -- Lancers win series, 2-0.
Springfield Cathedral 5, Woburn 0 -- Panthers win series, 2-0.
DIVISION 2 NORTH
Concord-Carlisle 5, Masconomet 1
Haverhill 2, North Reading 1
DIVISION 2 SOUTH
Canton 5, Medfield 1
Westwood 4, Medway 2
DIVISION 3 CENTRAL
Nashoba 7, Northbridge 0
Shrewsbury 7, Algonquin 3
Worcester/Leicester 3, Fitchburg/Monty Tech 2
Austin Prep 2, Watertown/Belmont 0
Duxbury 1, Arlington Catholic 0
HAVERHILL, Mass. -- Sometimes the best way to execute a difficult task is to just simplify it. So that’s what Billerica coach Chris Doneski told his girls when they struggled mightily with their rebounding towards the end of the season. Work hard and go do it.
Let’s just say it worked.
The Indians more than doubled Beverly’s rebounding total Wednesday night, 45-22, on their way to an all-out thrashing of their opponents in every phase of the game. Billerica advanced to the program’s first ever Division 1 North Final with a 58-30 victory, booking a trip to Lowell’s Tsongas Center on Saturday.
“It’s kind of ironic because we had trouble with it down the stretch,” Doneski explained. “We worked on it and they worked really hard on it and I noticed in the quarterfinal game against Revere that not only were we getting our defensive rebounds, but we were also getting offensive rebounds because they were being so aggressive. So they kind of doubled their efforts the last two times out trying to do that.”
Billerica allowed the Panthers just four offensive rebounds, while pulling down 14 of their own at the other end of the floor. Their ability to gain and maintain position when missed shots came down was pivotal, as Beverly started the game ice cold shooting the ball.
The Indians opened a 12-0 advantage before Beverly finally managed a bucket 5:38 into the game. Billerica finished the quarter with a 17-4 lead.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Indians then held Beverly scoreless in the second quarter (though the offense only managed four points of its own in the quarter). The Panthers only converted one field goal in the entire first half – that basket with 2:22 to play in the first quarter.
“Phenomenal,” Doneski answered, asked for one word to describe the defensive execution and effort on the evening. “They’ve really been doing that all year. The offense has come and gone in the course of the games and from game-to-game, but defensively they just play with so much effort, energy and heart that we’re just in every game. They just do a great job with it.”
Beverly junior Jess Cross scored a game-high 12 points and added four rebounds and a steal. Melissa Lubas gutted out a difficult night, finishing with seven points, eight rebounds and three assists. And in her final high school game, senior Ashley Augulewicz scored six points and pulled down a game-high nine rebounds.
Doneski cited his team’s appearance in the D1 North semifinals at Whittier two seasons ago, a 53-49 heartbreaking loss to Westford Academy, as a source of not only motivation, but also education.
“Last time we were here two years ago we got down 8-0 right away, so [tonight was] night and day [in comparison],” he explained. “They came out and were very aggressive and we got some good looks at the basket and got some things to fall that got us going.
“We wanted to come out and try to pressure them a little bit, see if we could get ourselves going and maybe get some easy chances at the rim and I think happened.”
All Together Now: No Billerica player scored in double digits Wednesday -- a fact that, to the outside observer, seems almost impossible. When added to the fact the team scored 58 points, a sizeable number for most high schools games, that notion seems downright silly.
Alas, nothing is out of the ordinary when it comes to Billerica basketball.
“That’s the way it’s been all year. I think our leading scorer scored maybe eight points a game, so we have a lot of different people that are capable. Anyone picks us up one through 13 and can be our leading scorer,” Doneski said. “No one complains about minutes, they just try to come in and do their job, do their role. And they’ve done it excellently this year.”
Wednesday’s semifinal win may have been the pinnacle of what the role players have worked toward all season. All 13 girls on the roster played significant minutes, and 11 of them scored. Even more impressively, every single player on the roster pulled in at least one rebound.
From sophomore Emily Scurka, who scored seven points and tied a team-high eight rebounds, to classmate Kelsey Leverone (nine points, three three-pointers) who hit back-to-back threes off the bench in the third quarter to break the surging Panthers’ backs, everyone contributed.
But senior point guard Caroline Gillis is the epitome of selflessness.
Gillis was a bull on both sides of the ball, committing herself to the other facets of her game when it seemed she was the only player on the Billerica roster whose shots wouldn’t fall in the early goings.
Her contributions mostly fell into the intangible category, but her ferocious approach to defense and rebounding undoubtedly was the drum beat Billerica marched to.
Gillis finished with nine points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“She was frustrated in the first half because she wasn’t scoring, but she sets the tempo," Doneski said. "She controls the game offensively, and defensively I think she makes it so tough on the other team to run anything.
"It’s an effort thing. I think between her and Lily Coppinger (three points, four rebounds, two on-your-feet exciting blocks), the two of them bring so much energy and effort and the determination that they’ve had, especially in the second half of the season, I think it kind of lets everybody else fall into line and into place in their roles.”
Gillis acknowledged a conscious effort to fill a different role.
“I tried to rebound a lot more, play harder defense, get low. I didn’t try to keep shooting because I was off tonight, so I just tried to pass it,” she said.
Arguably her most impressive feat of the night was the manner in which she drew fouls repeatedly. It got the point that one frustrated Beverly fan shouted out “Hey! She’s not LeBron James!”
Gillis couldn’t help but laugh at the chirping, but in James-esque fashion, she buckled down and willed her team to victory.
“I worked a lot harder hoping that I’d get a better outcome,” she said. “I didn’t want to lose. It’s my senior year. I didn’t want to lose.”
On Wednesday night, Ricci had the arduous chore of shutting down Watertown/Belmont sniper Emily LoPrete and she did just that while adding the title of goal scorer to her resume, leading the Cougars to a 2-0 win in a Division I quarter-final tilt at the O’Brien rink.
“She rises in the playoffs and she is our spark plug,” said AP coach Stephanie Wood of Ricci. “She thrives on it. She loves it. She can serve a lot of roles but she will step up when we need her in big games and she did today.”
After a scoreless first period, AP got on the board with the aid of a fortuitous bounce.
Meghan Hanlon dug the puck free along the goal line to left of Mauraiders keeper Jonna Kennedy and threw a pass to the front of the net that deflected off a defender’s stick and in for a 1-0 lead.
Late in the second period, Ricci showed some offensive skill when she stole a pass in the neutral zone, chipped it past a defender, and shifted to her forehand and buried a wrist shot past Kennedy for a 2-0 lead.
On the defensive end, Ricci continued her approach to shut down the other team’s top gun.
“I have done it so many times before,” said Ricci of her role as shut down defender. “She [LoPrete] was honestly the hardest one besides Alison Butler [St. Mary's] from two years ago. She is an unreal player but I just tried to stay on her but my teammates helped me when I would lose her.”
Those teammates included a solid defense led by junior Jamiee Cook and freshman Kendra Currier, as well as junior goalie Caty Flagg (16 saves).
“We are lucky this year where we have a good mixture of youth and more upper classmen,” said Wood of her team’s defense. “It is really great to see someone like Jamiee [Cook] as a junior who we will have next year and you have Kendra [Currier] who is a great addition for us. And Caty [Flagg] is in the zone back there. She is playing some of her best hockey right now.”
Austin Prep (17-3-2) will battle Reading (20-2-0) Sunday night in a battle for high school girl’s hockey bragging rights in the 0-1-8-6-7.
“We know it is going to be a great game and obviously it is going to be a very tough game,” added Wood. “It should be great for everyone there to watch and we are looking forward to it. We haven’t seen them yet this year but I think that makes it also more interesting and fun for a postseason matchup.”
After a thrilling 1-0 victory over Arlington Catholic Wednesday night at the O’Brien Rink in Woburn in the Division I quarter-final round, many including the Cougars won’t forget the name of Kathleen Donato.
Donato stood on her head all night in the Duxbury cage making 32 saves and sending the Dragons to a semi-final date with Acton-Boxborough on Sunday afternoon at the Chelmsford Forum.
“She is a senior and she has emerged and tonight was the best game that I have ever seen her play,” said Duxbury coach Friend Weiler. “She has worked hard and earned the nod as number one goalie. She made save after save and kept us in it in the first period. She is the reason why we won this game.”
A-C (18-3-1) tested Donato from beginning to end including just 30 seconds into the period when she flashed the right pad on a Jess Piracini bid.
Duxbury survived the first period scoreless despite the lopsided 12-3 shots advantage in favor of A-C.
Early in the second period, Duxbury’s Marissa Fichter, who scored the game winning goal against Arlington Catholic in last year’s state final game, came up with another timely strike.
After serving a penalty for checking, Fichter emerged from the box and stormed the offensive end and fired a shot that AC goalie Katherine Crane denied before Fichter drove to the net and swatted her rebound past Crane for the game’s only goal.
“I just kept hitting it and eventually it finally went in,” said Fichter. “It was right between her and the post. I didn’t really see where it was going. I’m not really sure how it went in.”
From there, the game and the moment belonged to Donato who made a huge glove save with just over four minutes left on Margaret Sullivan and a few more over the final two minutes as AC had the extra attacker on.
“I think it was really good that my team worked together,” said Donato. “Arlington Catholic is a great team and I think that by playing them it gave us a good challenge and made us work even harder. Even in the second period when we had kids in the penalty box our team really worked together and helped the defense out.”
Donato briefly joked about the final third period flurry she faced from the Cougars.
“I was a nervous wreck,” she said. “I basically had my eyes closed the whole time.”
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- Before the game even began, there was a vibe around the Cambridge basketball team.
As it was going through the pregame layup lines, players were dancing and exhibiting a looseness one would not expect before a state tournament semifinal game. However, there it was in the Crozier Fieldhouse at North Andover High School, mere miles from its opponent Andover’s gym, with no acknowledgement of any pressure or gravity of the moment.
“Waiting at the bus at the school, we’ve got the music playing,” said Cambridge guard Isaiah McLeod. “On the bus, we’ve got the music playing. In the locker room, we’ve got the music playing. We just love to be loose and energetic and just have fun. That’s what our coach says its all about. Just have fun. It’s a great high school experience.”
But once the game started, it was all business. Cambridge jumped out to an early 10-point lead a mere three minutes into the game. Isaiah McLeod, in particular, came out firing. He hit two 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the game and accounted for 16 of Cambridge’s 26 first-quarter points. It led Andover by 15 points after the first quarter and kept the pressure on from there.
The Falcons went on to win 78-62 to advance to the Division 1 North finals Saturday at Tsongas Center.
McLeod ended the first half with 25 points, which constitutes a quality final stat total for most players. He did not end there, however. He scored 10 more in the second half. He finished the game 11-of-13 from the free throw line and grabbed 7 rebounds for good measure.
“That’s Isaiah every night. If you look at Isaiah, I think with the 35 points tonight, he’s probably averaging close to 27, 28 points a game this year,” said Cambridge coach Lance Dottin. “He’s been like that all year. He’s been solid for us in the big games and we’ve played a number of big games. He’s obviously our best player and we feel like he’s one of the best in the state.
“That’s Isaiah McLeod, and he does it quietly. That is the whole thing about him. He’s a special player. We’ve watched him grow over the last four years. He’s a kid that a lot of the prep schools tried to influence to leave Cambridge, and he decided to stay at Cambridge. We owe a lot of our success to Isaiah. Where we are at right now obviously has a lot to do with him and hopefully we can continue with him playing that well. We’ve just got to make sure everyone else is on board.”
Andover got into foul trouble early, which disrupted its rhythm on top of dealing with Cambridge’s pressure and athleticism. Connor Merinder (22 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks), EJ Perry (7 points) and Jonathan Rodriguez (12 points) each picked up two fouls in the first quarter. Andover coach Dave Fazio was forced to mix and match his bench into the lineup in order to make sure his starters remained on the floor for the entire game.
“I just think we didn’t really have much legs tonight,” said Andover coach Dave Fazio. “I think our legs were blown out a little bit with the two overtime game against Lawrence (in the state quarterfinals Saturday). We were just a step behind. When you get into foul trouble like we did, it’s usually because you’re a step behind. We weren’t as proactive as we’d like to have been.
“But when they come out and start making shots from all over the court, you try to fix it and make adjustments. I think we did that. It was a 6-point game with two minutes to go in the third period, and then they put in (Demitrius Woodson) and he hits a shot in one corner and then (Tevin Charles, 15 points, 6 rebounds) hits another three in the other corner to make it to 12.
"I thought our adjustments were pretty good at the half when we went scramble to box-and-one against (McLeod), who is a heck of a player. When you have a kid that is that good and they’re that athletic, and they drive the ball so hard, it just kind of put us on our heels all night. We just couldn’t recover. We tried to recover and we tried to respond, but we just came up a little short tonight.”
The Golden Warriors trailed by 12 at halftime but made a surge late in the third quarter to get the lead to under double-digits. Unfortunately for them, Cambridge always answered right back. A David Giribaldi (19 points) basket was answered with by a McLeod foul line jumper at the other end. Giribaldi drove to the hoop on the next possession to make it 44-38, but then Demitrius Woodson and Tevin Charles would hit back-to-back three’s to bring the lead back up to 12 points.
“Our coach, coming into halftime, told us they were going to make a run,” said McLeod. “He told us to just be composed and be ready for whatever they’re going to throw at us. That’s what we were. We knew they were going to cut it down eventually but we just kept our head in it. We called that time out, just stayed focused. We took a deep breath, drank some water, and came back ready to play again and got the lead back up.”
Early in the fourth, Cambridge was nursing a double-digit lead when Giribaldi was fouled going to the hoop. His layup went in, but he missed the free throw and Ryan O’Connell came down with the rebound. Giribaldi hit a three to make it an 8-point game, but once again McLeod answered with a three of his own to keep the game at double-digits.
Merinder fouled out of the game with 2:31 left in the game and his team down by 15 points. As he left the floor, he shared an emotional embrace with Fazio. A productive high school basketball career came to an end while McLeod’s and Cambridge’s rolls on. Another will come to an unceremonious ending Saturday night just two games short of a state championship. Cambridge will do its best to make sure it won’t be theirs.
“We just had a meeting, all the players, and we said if we want this, we’re going to have to want it,” said McLeod. “Our coach always tells us the hungriest dog gets the bone, so that’s what we started to live by. We started to buy into what he said and we’re playing real well right now.”
Cambridge hopes to continue to play well Saturday night against St. John’s Prep in the Division 1 North final at Tsongas Center. A few of the Prep players were in attendance Wednesday to get an up close and personal look at their next opponent. Dottie knows the tall task his team has ahead of it.
“I watched them the other day and it was unbelievable, the size, and they’re physical,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re rebounding the basketball. We want to make sure on every shot we’re boxing out. Hopefully we’ll do that, and that’s on the kids. The kids have to box out. We’ll work on stuff in practice, but we’ve got to get the ball off the backboard and we’ve got to run.”
Devan Harris shows some range with a 3 before halftime: at the break Danvers leads Brighton 34-27 https://t.co/GklR1o0UQx— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) March 5, 2015
States leading shot blocker Peter Merry erases one here https://t.co/6koU1iGjqH— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) March 5, 2015
WOBURN, Mass. -- Come March, it’s time to lean on your seniors.
Led by a trio of talented upperclassmen, the Danvers Falcons (24-0) were able to hold off a feisty Brighton Bengals (20-5) squad for a 65-58 win in the MIAA Division 2 North semifinals at Woburn High on Wednesday night.
Sharpshooter Vinny Clifford knocked down three 3-pointers in the first half, 6-foot-10 center Peter Merry controlled the defensive paint with five blocks throughout the contest, and Devan Harris was everywhere for the Falcons as he scored a game-high 27 points in the win.
“I knew we had to come out aggressive, and play as hard as we could, because [Brighton] is a very tough team,” Harris said.
Harris scored 17 points in the first half, and helped the Falcons close each of the first two quarters on 5-0 runs.
As Danvers head coach John Walsh said, “[Harris] has that in him. Tonight, he knew the magnitude of the game. He’s a senior, so it could’ve been his last high school game ever, and I think that resonated with him, and motivated him to come out so aggressive.”
The rest of Danvers’ players weren’t necessarily spectators while Harris, Merry, and Clifford carried the load, but no other Falcon scored until junior guard Rashad Francois drove to the basket for a layup in the final seconds of the third quarter.
Along with Francois, sophomore Devonn Allen made several key plays down the stretch, and the two guards combined to knock down 7 of 8 free throws to ice the win, but the efforts of the three sizeable seniors made all the difference in this contest.
“Experience matters a lot,” confirmed Walsh. “Our kids have been through this before, and it really helps. Brighton is so young, and over the next few years, they’ll end up as one of the favorites to win a state title. Not to take anything away from them, but it is a huge factor when you know how to finish games.”
Bright Future: The fourth-seeded Bengals went blow for blow with the prohibitive favorites to win the Division 2 state title, and that is an impressive feat for a relatively young team.
Jordan Galloway knocks down a midrange jumper but Brighton trails 40-33 early Q3 https://t.co/EJ5m9yFEYR— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) March 5, 2015
Sophomore guards Jordan Galloway (20 points) and Tyrone Perry (14 points) carried Brighton’s offense throughout the game, and Galloway was undeniably the best guard on the floor on this night.
With only three seniors on the roster, the Bengals are certainly capable of vying for the state title in upcoming seasons.
Chasing Perfection: After another close win, the Falcons continue their march towards the state finals at the DCU center in Worcester. However, they’ll have to get past either Tewksbury or Arlington in the sectional finals this Saturday, and their coach doesn’t believe his players will look too far ahead.
Merrys 4th block of the game here https://t.co/EbzyNuzDhl— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) March 5, 2015
“We’re not necessarily planning to win it all. We’re planning to play the right way,” said Walsh. “I don’t think [the seniors] think about going undefeated. It’s a testament to them, because they really don’t worry about being the number one seed or anything like that, they take it one game at a time, and it shows.”
Harris was essentially perfect in this particularly contest, as the lefty did a little bit of everything for Danvers.
He made several tough, contested layups in the first quarter, and his three-pointer in the final seconds of the second quarter put the Falcons in control with a 34-27 advantage going into halftime.
Although he’s not necessarily known for his outside shot, Harris said, “I love to shoot it when I’m open. If I’m open, I’ll jack it. My teammates know that. At the time, it was a really close game, and those shots definitely swung the momentum a little bit.”
When asked about his teams’ ability to close each quarter effectively, Walsh replied, “It was huge. During an intermission, the kids can look up at the scoreboard and realize that what we’re doing is working. So it gives them a sense of accomplishment heading into the next quarter.”
After eliminating one of the most talented teams left in the D2 bracket, Danvers should feel a sense of accomplishment as they head into the next round.
Danvers 65, Brighton 58
DV 15 19 11 20 --- 65
BR 13 14 13 18 --- 58
Danvers – Devan Harris (27 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals)
Danvers – Peter Merry (12 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks)
Danvers – Vinny Clifford (13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists)
Brighton – Jordan Galloway (20 points, 3 assists, 3 steals)
Brighton – Tyrone Perry (14 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals)
Brighton – Jason Jones (6 points, 15 rebounds)
LOWELL, Mass. -- Malden Catholic will continue its defense of the four-straight Super 8 titles after defeating Franklin, 5-0, at the Tsongas Center on Wednesday night, behind a two-goal effort from Jack Adams.
The win gave the Lancers a 2-0 sweep in their opening series with a feisty, senior-laden Panthers squad, advancing them to the semi-final on March 11.
“They’re a great team,” said Adams of Franklin. “Twenty-one seniors, you don’t see that too often in high school hockey. It’s really special what they did, they’re a great team. They fought us hard. It’s really a tough team.”
“This is uncharted territory for us,” said Franklin coach Chris Spillane whose team was in Division 2 just two years ago. “I think they handled themselves pretty good.”
Things weren’t so smooth for MC in the early goings as Franklin outplayed the Lancers through a scoreless first period.
The ship started to steer in the defending champions’ favor early in the second when they put a barrage of shots on Ryan Shea, including a left-point blast from Pat Harrington in which the Franklin goalie made a fantastic glove save.
Less than a minute later Harrington was teeing it up again from the left circle and with a little extra mustard managed to rip his shot over Shea’s left shoulder to put the Lancers up 1-0, 3:39 into the period.
Later in the second Malden Catholic wound up on the right side of four consecutive penalties between the two teams, capitalizing on a few short seconds of a power play chance when Austin Goldstein, from behind the net, found Jack Adams camping on the left doorstep.
With Shea down covering the left, Adams easily shuffled the puck into a wide-open right side, giving the Lancers a 2-0 advantage at 8:52.
Then it was Adams again at 11:18, collecting a tape-to-tape pass from Nick Botticelli as he came across the crease, depositing left side for a 3-0 lead.
“First period we played with them,” said Spillane. “Then we just kind of ran out of gas and we started chasing the puck around.”
“We talked about playing our game, our system,” said McLean. “We hadn’t done that for four periods. There wasn’t any yelling and screaming. I asked them to do what we drew up and it worked and we’ll go from there.”
Just 17 seconds into the third period Witkowski (goal, two assists) struck for a goal and in the process deflated Franklin’s chance at a comeback.
“That was the one that, I don’t want to say ended it, but it is what it is,” said McLean on the magnitude of Witkowski’s goal. “The guys jumped at a chance, they finally finished and I’m just happy we’re moving on.”
The first period saw Franklin controlling a good portion of the pacing behind the efforts of top-line seniors Alec Borkowski, Ryan Spillane and Joe Bourque, setting up numerous opportunities on the Lancers doorstep, but bad bounces and barely missed blades haunted the Panthers rock-solid effort.
Meanwhile Lancers defensemen John McLean and Pat Harrington were doing their best to try and knock Franklin off balance, delivering big clean hits that left many Panthers picking themselves off the rink floor.
In killing two penalties, stopping six shots and surviving many a harrowed chance by Franklin, the game remained scoreless after one.
“The first period was the same as last game,” said McLean. “I’ve got to give [Franklin] credit though, they came out, they made things difficult, they clogged up the middle, worked hard and created a lot of turnovers.”
After they finally got on the board in the second, the Lancers took control of the game, bolstered by a penalty-kill unit that kept the Panthers off the board in eight man-advantage opportunities.
Matt Felipe (goal, assist) finished the night’s scoring with a missile from the right circle with 5:54 to play, the second power play strike of the night for MC.
Lancers goalie Alex Reissis, who didn’t face a shot in the third period, finished with ten saves in preserving the shutout while Goldstein added two helpers to the effort.
Malden Catholic will await the winner of the Austin Prep-Central Catholic series. Game two of that series, in which AP leads 1-0, will be played on Thursday night.
NUMBERS GAME: There is no road harder to traverse than the Super 8’s to the Garden, which is why Malden Catholic’s success for nearly a last decade now should be spotlighted.
With their win on Wednesday the Lancers advanced to their eighth consecutive semi-final round (formerly the crossover round) in the state’s elite hockey tournament.
“It means everything,” said Adams. “It’s all we’ve talked about since day one, trying to do our job and get back to the Garden.”
In the prior seven times they have been in this position Malden Catholic has gone 5-2, winning four championships.
Also of note, the round two win over Franklin was the Lancers 20th straight victory in Super 8 play.
LOWELL, Mass. – It took a while, but Springfield Cathedral eventually made sure that everything went to script.
After an even first period the top-seeded Panthers exploded for 19 shots, and three goals, in the second to run away from Woburn en route to a 5-0 win to sweep their quarterfinal series and advance to the Super 8 semifinals next Wednesday.
They will play either BC High or St. John's Prep.
Peter Crinella and Johnny Leonard scored goals a minute and 13 seconds apart midway through the second, and it was all Panthers from there. Leonard potted his second, off a perfect pass from D.J. Petruzzelli, with a minute left in the period.
“I think our shifts were shorter in the second period, and all the lines were working,” Springfield Cathedral coach Brian Foley said. “The energy was good on the bench, and they were feeding off each other. Once we got the first goal everybody got into it. We had a lot of players who played well tonight which was nice to see.”
The Panthers outshot Woburn 32-9 over the final two periods and only allowed a pair of scoring chances for the Tanners.
Sammy Best did yeoman's work in goal for Woburn, with 34 saves, but the Panther offense was too much to contain.
“We knew what we were up against,” Woburn coach Jim Duran said. “Good first period. Second period we were always going to get ourselves in trouble because we're that far away from the bench, and if we can't change up we get ourselves in trouble. Second period is tough with us. We just get tired out there and can't get off for the changes. We hung in there, had some chances in the first, had some chances in the second. They're such a good team that it's hard to keep him down.”
Six Panthers found the score sheet. Petruzzelli added a shorthanded goal in the game's waning minutes to go with his assist, and Bryce Peritz added a goal and an assist of his own. Matt Cieboter and Devan Tongue each added an assist.
D.J.'s younger brother, Keith, turned aside all 15 Woburn shots.
“Keith is a great goalie,” Foley said. “I figured after he let in two the other night he wouldn't let one in tonight. He gets mad when he lets a goal in. He's got a great demeanor, it never takes him out of the game, but I knew he would really want to keep them at no goals tonight.”
MOVING ON: The win advances Cathedral to its second straight appearance in the Super 8 semifinals. Last year they lost to Malden Catholic. More importantly, the sweep guarantees them a full week off before the semifinals, which will be next Wednesday back at Tsongas Center.
“It feels great heading to the semis for the second straight year,” Leonard said. “Obviously, it's something special. It's a great win for us. This is a game we knew we had to win to get our legs back and get a few more days off for rest. Not playing another game is huge for us. We got to work hard in practice and come hard on Wednesday.”
The Panthers will get the winner of the BC High-St. John's Prep series.
While Cathedral hasn't played Prep this year, the Panthers have played BC twice. The first was a 2-2 tie in late December, and the most recent game, on Feb. 4, was won by the Panthers 4-2.
“We'll take tomorrow off and get back at it on Friday,” Foley said. “Probably take a day off on the weekend and get ready for Wednesday. Whoever it is it'll be a real battle. We've just got to get ready for that.”
Oh sure, Dexter had drawn first blood, but most inside Iorio Arena felt it was just a prelude of things to come between these two high-powered, well-skilled combatants.
But Nick Lanni had other ideas. The Dexter senior netminder was nothing short of magnificent during Wednesday's quarterfinal round of the Stuart/Corkery (Elite 8) Tournament. The Watertown native withstood a plethora of offensive attacks by the Penguins, never once wincing, in lifting Dexter to a thrilling 1-0 triumph.
"I was getting a lot of help from my defense today," said Lanni, finishing with 39 saves -- several of which were of the masterful variety. "When you are playing against the best line in prep hockey of (David) Cotton, (Jake) Simons and (Bailey) Conger, the defense and our forwards did an unbelievable job getting sticks on pucks and protected me all game long in front of the net. This is a big moment in our school's history to get that first ever (Elite 8) victory. Now we have six more periods to go from here."
Dexter, seeded seventh, improves to 19-4-5, having now gone 12-0-4 in its last 16 games. They will travel to No. 6 Gunnery (a 6-1 winner over Nobles) for Saturday's semifinal bout at a time to be determined.
Last year, Dexter reached the finals of the Piatelli/Simmons Small School Championship before falling to Kimball Union Academy. No. 2 Cushing closes its fine campaign 26-4-4.
When these two prep powers met back in early December, they played to a 2-2 standstill.
"They are certainly a high-flying offense," said Dexter head coach Dan Donato of Cushing. "We were well aware of that coming in. They have a great transition and come after you hard on the rush. They like to bring up their weak side defenseman and they really get after you. We did a couple of drills in practice this week to try and eliminate that and, for the most part, I thought by in large we did a pretty good job. I couldn't be any more prouder of this team. They have really come together as a unit."
Donato said he spoke openly with his second and third line forwards and centers during Tuesday's practice, telling them to assume that first line leading scorer Ryan Donato (51 points) would be shutdown by the Penguins defense and how important it was for all of them to step up their respective games.
"I told them let's plan on Ryan doing nothing and lets make sure that one of those six comes up with something for us and as a result, Bryan Green gets a huge goal for us," Donato said. "As for Nick, he makes big saves look somewhat routine because he is a great athlete and is always in a great athletic position. On occasion we will get exposed but Nick has been right there making big save after save. Without Nick we wouldn't be standing here right now."
After Green's tally (his 10th goal of the season), Dexter had difficulty continuing its offensive rhythm. Much of that had to do with Cushing's swarming defensive pressure which refused to allow Dexter much space to breath. For the remainder of the opening period, it was the Penguins who started to make some offensive headway. But Lanni literally became a concrete barrier between the pipes, allowing nothing past him.
Over the course of the middle frame, Cushing continued to dictate the offensive tempo. Cycling the puck around the zone, the Penguins had ample opportunities to score, putting up 14 shots in the process on Lanni during the period. But none crossed the goal line, adding to Cushing's already rising frustration level.
"Personally I thought we carried the play for much of the game," Penguins head coach Rob Gagnon said. "We had a lot of good chances but their goalie was terrific as ours was. Their goalie happened to come up with one more save than ours. It was a well-played game by our team but we just couldn't find the net."
Having registered 13 shots over the first 36 minutes, Dexter, when it wasn't dumping the puck into the offensive zone in an attempt to eat up valuable time, began to open things up a bit in the third. Early on, it was they who became the aggressors on offense, putting forth several shots on Daccord (24 saves) but came away empty. At the 6:40 mark, Dexter had a chance to extend the lead after a 2 on 1 break developed.
However, Daccord, who is committed to Arizona State next season, came out of his crease to cut off the angle and stoned Patrick Daly's hard wrist shot.
That play sparked some added life into Cushing's arsenal. Suddenly, it was the Penguins who were pushing the puck expeditiously down the ice, shooting from all points in an attempt to notch the equalizer. Cushing finished the frame with eight shots yet the scenario remained the same with Lanni, albeit exhausted at game's end, coming through with stop after stop to silence the Penguins who, for the second time in as many years, lost in the quarterfinal round. Last year they were on the short end of a double-overtime heartbreaker to eventual champ Salisbury School.
"We did a lot of things well today," said Gagnon. "We kept Donato off the score sheet. We executed our game plan and did everything we could except score. We got good goaltending when we needed it but their goalie countered and made several big saves too. Sometimes you eat the bear and other days the bear eats you. I told our kids they should walk out of here disappointed but not ashamed because they competed really hard today."
ELITE 8 - STUART/CORKERY (OPEN) DIVISION
Kimball Union 2, Phillips Exeter 1
Dexter 1, Cushing Academy 0
The Gunnery 6, Noble & Greenough 1
Salisbury 3, Loomis Chaffee 1
Thayer Academy 5, Brunswick 4 (OT)
Choate Rosemary Hall 4, St. Paul's 2
Brooks 2, St. Sebastian's 1 (OT)
Belmont Hill 4, Berkshire 2
St. Mark's 3, New Hampton 2
Westminster 8, Vermont Academy 0
Rivers School 3, Tilton 2
Proctor 6, Winchendon 5
Kent School 3, Loomis Chaffee 1
Williston Northamption 3, Choate Rosemary Hall 1
St. Paul's 2, Noble & Greenough 0
Pomfret 3, Tabor Academy 2 (2 OT)
Rivers School 2, The Gunnery 1
Worcester Academy 3, St. George's 2 (OT)
Southfield 6, Canterbury 2
Berwick 3, Proctor 1