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SJS returns to DCU for 4th straight year

WORCESTER, Mass. -- Even though St. John’s of Shrewsbury made just two field goals in the third quarter, the Pioneers withstood a strong run by Northampton and came away from the DCU Center with a 52-43 victory over the Blue Devils on Wednesday night, in a Division 1 state semifinal.

This marks the fourth straight year that the Pioneers are in the Division 1 state championship, having won it in 2009 over Lynn English and lost to Central Catholic in 2008 and 2010.

The Pioneers scored five points in the third quarter, but then put up 22 points in the fourth to come away with a win over the Western Mass champion Blue Devils.

“I thought our kids really gutted it out and I think a big key was our defense once again.” St. John’s head coach Bob Foley said.

St. John’s defense made Northampton work for their points throughout the game. Jarrod Neumann -- the Blue Devils' key offensive threat -- had eight points in the second half, but was held in check by Pioneers’ forward Richard Rodgers.

“When they beat my perimeter guys -- especially some of the younger guys -- Richard Rodgers was waiting for them, or Matt Palecki was waiting for them and I think that really helped us out,” Foley said of his defense.

“We just knew to keep our composure and we needed to step up,” Rodgers said about the game. “Matt Harrington stepped up big time. He hit a three and then a jumper and then we just kept going from there.”

While Rodgers shined on defense and had 12 points on the night, it was St. John’s Matt Harrington that kept the offense going when the Blue Devils made it a tight game.

Harrington was 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, and tallied 18 points against an aggressive Northampton defense. Although he was hounded in the second half by a Northampton press that kept St. John’s in check in the third quarter, Harrington protected the ball well and caught fire on offense in the fourth.

“We had to get the ball moving again,” Harrington said about the team’s slump in the third quarter. “Northampton did a good job taking away our wing passes and our entry passes so we had to move the ball and set better screens -- and that’s when our bigs opened up.”

In St. John’s last game against Fitchburg in the state-quarter finals, Harrington slumped, but was able to rebound when his team needed him in the semi-final.

“We knew we had the confidence in him that he could knock them down, Matt’s a really good shooter,” Palecki said.

The Pioneers blew the Blue Devils out in the fourth quarter and now advance to face St. John’s Prep in the state finals.

“It was a great thing to get this win because we need it for our confidence going into the state championship,” Rodgers said.