LOWELL, Mass. -- It wasn’t the way they drew it up, but it worked.
With mere seconds left in its Division 1 North final game against Lexington Saturday, Charlestown was holding on to a one-point lead.
Coming out of a timeout, Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso drew up a play to get one of his players a clean look at the basket, but due to time constraints, Rony Fernandez ended up taking a three.
He drilled the shot to give his team the 48-44 lead. Seconds later, after a desperation Lexington heave, the clock ran out and Charlestown had punched its ticket to the Division 1 State semi-finals Monday night.
“The play was supposed to be for Tyrese (Hoxter),” said Cardoso. “There was supposed to be a screen up top and Tyrese was supposed to penetrate. It ended up going in Rony’s hands with five or six seconds, and Rony created. That’s why he’s so versatile with the basketball.”
There could have been worse players to have the basketball in his hands than the 6-foot-1 senior guard. After the team scored only 16 points in the first half, it came out shooting the ball more efficiently in the second half.
That was particularly true for Fernandez, who ended the game with 22 points, 15 of which came from behind the three-point line.
“I was wide open and I just wanted to make that shot,” he said. “I dream about making those type of shots. It was a broken play. I think it was me and Tyrese were supposed to create off the dribble, and get a kick-out, but I guess it just broke up and I ended up wide open.”
Saturday marked the end of Lexington’s (16-8) Cinderella run through the Division 1 North tournament. On it’s way to Saturday’s final, the No. 12 seed had knocked off the No. 2 seed Acton-Boxborough, No. 3 seed Westford, and No. 6 seed Boston Latin.
It appeared for a majority of the first half that the story might not end there. Charlestown’s poor shooting, combined with Lexington’s domination on the glass (it won the rebounding battle 32-21) allowed it to get out in front early and take momentum into the half.
Patrick Burns (nine points, nine rebounds), Myles Penniman (12 points, five rebounds), and Chris Lee (14 points, seven rebounds), all gave Charlestown (20-4) problems with their length early on.
Things changed in the second half. With a minute and a half left in the third, Charlestown took a 30-28 lead, the first it had since the opening minutes of the game.
The cure for its shooting woes?
“Keep shooting,” said Fernandez. “Never lose your confidence. Omar (Orriols) is our best shooter (eight points, three rebounds, two steals) and we tell him to just keep shooting. All you have to do is keep shooting. We live and die by it.”
They live to play another day. This time they will be one game away from the D1 State Finals.
Get On The Bus: There was a period of time before the game when it was unknown if or when Cardoso was going to make it to the Tsongas Center. He made the unorthodox decision to ride to the game on the Charlestown fan bus, rather than with his team.
At some point along the ride from Charlestown to Lowell, the bus driver got lost. The team was sitting in the stands at Tsongas, but its coach was nowhere to be found. Luckily, Cardoso arrived in time to coach his team to victory.
“I wanted to support the fans, so I told my headmaster, ‘I’m going to go with the fans today because they’ve been great all season,” he said. “So we get in traffic and we get lost, and everybody’s phones didn’t have service out here, we got here though.”
In retrospect, one can say he would have arrived at Tsongas in a more timely manner had he traveled with his team, but Cardoso felt he was better suited to travel with his team’s fans on what is usually a high-pressure day.
“I felt like today I wanted to be a little bit loose, you know, be on the fan bus and hear the chants,” he added. “I wanted to hear them talk about who they’re cheering for, so I was loose before the game. Every time I’m on a team bus, it’s too serious. I said, ‘Guys, I’m going with the fans today'."
Up Next: Charlestown moves on to face Division 1 South champion Brockton at the TD Garden in the State semi-finals. It’s the same Brockton team that lost only twice all year -- one of which was an 18-point drubbing at the hands of this same Charlestown team in the finals of last month's Comcast IAABO Board 27 Tournament.
Because of its big win, the team knows it is capable of taking down Brockton again, but is not too quick to overlook the team that steamrolled through the Division 1 South bracket to get to where it is.
“We played Brockton before, so we know they’re going to come at us with all they’ve got,” said Fernandez.
Avoiding a letdown will be key if it hopes to move on to the Division 1 State Title game.
“Stay focused, focused, focused,” emphasized Fernandez, when asked how his team can avoid a letdown. “Don’t lose focus, don’t get gassed up, and we’ll get that win.”
Cardoso knows what kind of a battle his team will have on its hands Monday night.
“It’s like a whole new ball game, I hope these kids come in and take it seriously,” said Cardoso. “I know we beat them the first time, but they’re a very good basketball team. We gotta go out to the Garden and just play hard, play the Charlestown way.”
“Brockton doesn’t like Charlestown too much, and we don’t like Brockton too much either, so it’s going to be a grind house. They have some great fans and we have some great fans, so it’s going to be a grudge match and Brockton’s going to play with us.”