WORCESTER, Mass. -- Putnam, on the heels of winning its first-ever boys’ Division 1 Western Mass. championship, continued its historic season with a 52-39 win over Central Mass. champ Milford in the state semifinal at the DCU Center in Worcester on Wednesday night.
Putnam (23-1) did the way its done it all year, with rebounding and defense. The Beavers outrebounded the Scarlet Hawks 36-16, 16-7 on the offensive glass and forced 18 turnovers, earning a trip to the state final to play Mansfield on Saturday.
The Beavers held a one-point advantage over Milford (20-4) in the third quarter. Putnam up the defensive intensity and rallied off 10 straight points to head into the fourth quarter with a 42-31 lead. Putnam had switched from its typical man-to-man defense to a 1-3-1, which slowed down the Milford offense, which had scored the first six points off the half to take a one-point advantage.
“It kind of confused them for a while,” Putnam head coach William Shepard said. “It took away their energy. When we went into the zone, they got a little stagnant and didn’t really know what to do. Then they started to settle for jump shots.”
Milford hung tough and cut the lead to six several times in the fourth quarter, off threes from Aaron Anniballi and Christopher Brown. Putnam countered by pushing the tempo. David Murrell hit a free throw after getting fouled, Jonathan Garcia came away with a breakaway lay-in and Kayjuan Bynum turned pressure into a transition layup, upping the lead to 11 with under a minute to go.
“That team; the quickness, you can’t match that,” Anniballi said. “You can’t practice for that.”
“We played teams that quick, but we haven’t played teams that quick with that kind of chemistry.” added Mike Tiltlebaum. “We’ve played good teams where we’d break them a part. Mentally we’re tough. That chemistry and their quickness got us in the end."
Putnam led early in the game, 20-9, but when Garcia went to the bench with his second foul, the Scarlet Hawks went on an 11-0 run and used a 2-3 zone to limit the Beaver offense, yet the Beavers regrouped and entered intermission with a 27-22 lead.
Putnam was led by Dizel Wright’s 17 points and 12 rebounds (eight offensive). Bynum added 15 and 13 while Murrell and Garcia added nine each. All Milford players were held to single digits with David Mercier lead the Scarlet Hawks with nine points.
Putnam's size is irrelevant: Putnam went up against the heralded front line of Kamari Robinson and Chris Baldwin in the Western Mass. final and out worked Springfield Central’s duo to take down its city rival.
No one who played for Putnam on Tuesday night stood more than 6-foot-3. Milford started 6-foot-7 David Mercier and 6-foot-5 Michael Tracy. From the start of the game Putnam was the aggressive on the glass and it showed when 5-foot-10 Dizel Wright hauled in 12 rebounds (eight offensive).
Bynum led the team with 13 boards, but seven of Wright’s first eight rebounds were offensive and helped the Beavers head into the locker room with a five-point edge.
“I like to control the ball and see where the ball is going,” Wright said. “I try to pace myself. Timing is key.”
The Beavers defense on the perimeter has continued to be great and when they went to a 1-3-1 zone in the third quarter it stopped Milford from scoring while Putnam scored 10 unanswered.
“Their 1-3-1 zone is really good, and they’re really quick to the ball,” Anniballi said. “They leak out too so you have to be prepared for that. The zone hit us hard.”
Milford’s best offensive success of the night came when Jonathan Garcia picked up his second foul under a minute to go in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Milford went on an 11-0 run, but when Garcia came back on the floor he blocked shots on consecutive plays, deflected multiple passes and steals.
“Jonathan is one of our mainstays defensively,” Shepard said. “Something’s a little different when Jon Jon isn’t in the game.”
Milford’s season comes to an end: Like Putnam, Milford was a hard working team, overlooked for the majority of the season and often picked against during the postseason. As the clock hit triple zeros and the handshakes were finished senior captain Mike Titlebaum led the team over to the fan section where for minutes after the game hugs and thank yous were exchanged after an incredible season.
“They are one of my favorite groups,” Milford head coach Steve Manguso said. “They’re good friends, there’s good chemistry, good leadership. They’ve been a blast. It’s been a great experience.”
Like Putnam, Milford came off an emotional win on Sunday at WPI, dethroning five-time Central Mass. champion, St. John’s Shrewsbury 56-54.
“Our first reaction is obviously sad,” Anniballi said. “We look back at all the things we did in the tournament, throughout the whole season, and throughout of all high school; it’s unreal.”
Titlebaum referred to watching Milford lose to St. John’s in the 2007 sectional final, sparking a dream all of them had to return the favor to the Pioneers if they ever had the chance.
“We lost, but the dream came true,” said Titlebaum. “It was awesome.”
Following the three captains shared the media room with Putnam players David Murrell, Kayjuan Bynum and head coach Will Shepard. They stopped their interviews to wish them luck and congratulate them as they walked out the door.
“I wish we were going to practice tomorrow,” said Manguso. “But there aren’t too many teams practicing right now.”
Other scores from Worcester: For the second consecutive year, Western Mass. swept Central Mass. in the boys’ state semifinals. Tuesday night Smith Academy beat Littleton 72-56 in the D3 semifinal, followed by South Hadley topped St. Bernard’s 63-48 in the D2 semifinal.