BOSTON -– For Mansfield sophomore forward Michael Boen, this was by far the biggest game, and biggest stage he’s ever been apart of.
Playing against one of the best teams the state as to offer in Central Catholic, on the historic parquet floor, before a large crowd at TD Garden one would imagine a 16-year-old would be extremely nervous, especially shooting two free throws with seven seconds left and the game on the line.
Boen certainly didn’t show those nerves as he calmly sunk two free throws to seal Mansfield’s 55-50 win over Central Catholic in the Division 1 Eastern Mass. Championship game Tuesday night.
“I was definitely nervous, but I didn’t try and show it,” Boen said. “That is what we do in practice, we shoot our free throws and it pays off. It really does.”
In a wild last two minutes of the game, Central’s Tyler Nelson canned a three-pointer with a minute to play tying the game at 50. Mansfield junior Kevin Conner then responded with 40 seconds left, putting the Hornets up 52-50. Central turned the ball over on their next possession and then was forced to foul Mansfield’s Brendan Hill with 20.4 seconds left on the clock.
Hill made one of two, giving Mansfield a three-point lead, 53-50. Electing not to have Central attempt a three to tie the game, Mansfield fouled Central’s Jamahl Lopez with seven ticks left setting up a one-and-one situation.
Lopez missed the front end, where Boen grabbed the rebound and was fouled, setting up his two clutch free throws to clinch the win and an EMass championship for the Hornets.
“I was begging for the clock to run faster,” Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughn said. “I knew they were going to make a push and throw everything at us as possible. We just had to weather it. I thought the guys had great composure and we got some key stops when we needed them.”
The game would not have had such a dramatic finish if it weren’t for the dominant fourth quarter from Central junior Tyler Nelson. Nelson scored 12 of his 15 points in the fourth, including two three-pointers. His jumper with 2:19 left actually gave his Red Raiders a 47-46 lead, but Mansfield’s Conner responded on the very next possession.
“He is a tremendous high school basketball player and he does it by working his butt off,” Vaughn said of Nelson. “We were literally chasing him running around, holding a little, bumping a little, doing everything we humanly could to try and get him off the three-point line...Talk about a special high school kid. I don’t want to play him next year.”
It was actually an off night for Nelson, who struggled in the first half, going 0-for-9 from the field and recording zero points. He didn’t record his first points, until a three-pointer two minutes into the third quarter.
“He’s an outstanding player and does so much for us,” said Central coach Rick Nault. “I think he was 0-for-9 in the first half and part of the reason we were down seven. He usually doesn’t shoot like that. They did a tremendous job on him.”
As a team Central struggled offensively in the first half only scoring 17 points and shooting just 26 percent from the field. The Red Raiders trailed 24-17 at intermission. Much of that was because of the outstanding defense Mansfield played.
“It is good team defense -- just team basketball,” Vaughn said. “Just a resilient group that knows how to get stop after stop.”
The Red Raiders came back in the second half shooting 63 percent from the field, but just couldn’t get over the hump after tying the game on a few occasions. They knotted the score at 43 with 5:32 remaining, but Mansfield responded with two straight baskets.
Central took the lead, 47-46, but once again Mansfield responded on the next trip down, and finally Nelson’s three with a minute left tied the game at 50, but the Hornets scored the games’ last five points.
“Every time they needed a play they seemed to respond,” Nault said of Mansfield. “Give their coaching staff all the credit. They made the plays at the end of the game and we didn’t. It seemed like we’d make a play, hit a shot and feel good. We were content with being tied; we didn’t dig in and get a stop. Obviously it is disappointing.”
Central was led by Nelson’s 15, but also got a strong game from senior forward Joel Berroa who finished with 10.
Mansfield had eight players in the scoring column with Conner leading the way with 14. Junior Rocky DeAndrade finished with eight, while Boen and senior Greg Romanko added seven apiece. The balanced scoring is something Vaughan is accustomed to seeing.
“It is kind of how we’ve been all year,” he said. “A kid like (Brendan) Hill, who gets a lot of press only gets five points, but a kid like Kevin (Conner) got in double figures. Last week it was (Kyle) Wisnieski. We’re getting a lot of contributions from different guys and that makes us unique. It is why I think we’re here and why we are able to win.”
With the win Mansfield will move on to play Springfield Putnam for the Division 1 state championship Saturday night at the DCU Center. For the Hornets, they will aim to treat it just like any other game this season.
“We need to come in and play every game like we have, play our best, work our hardest and hopefully we come up with a win,” Boen said.
NOT AT FULL STRENGTH
Central Catholic played the last portion of their season not at full strength, missing two starters down the stretch. Junior forward Nick Cambio was out with an injured hip, while senior Doug Gemmell was dealing with symptoms from a concussion, which just wouldn’t go away.
Nault acknowledged after the game being without those two players made a difference, especially in game like Tuesday, but is still proud of his team for winning four state tournament games.
“Yes, no question, he said. “Not having the two forwards up front, and playmakers around the rim is a big thing. To be without those guys, be in the game and have this run they have nothing to be ashamed of. It was a tremendous run by a team that overcame a lot of adversity.”
The Red Raiders finished the year 21-6 and will return key contributors in Nelson, Cambio and Aaron Hall.