Boston High School: David Mercier

D1 Central/West: Putnam 52, Milford 39

March, 13, 2013

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.

D1 Central: Milford 46, Wachusett 44

March, 4, 2013
WORCESTER, Mass. -- Joe Atkinson greeted reporters with a look that was one part ecstatic, one part exhausted.

"I'm dead," the Milford senior laughed. "I hurt my ankle [in the third quarter], but I can't even feel it right now. All adrenaline."

When you're down 18 with the season on the line, before a sweeling crowd in a cauldron like the Harrington Auditorium on the campus of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, you tend to go beyond the threshold. Atkinson understood as much, and was just about drained as he went up to contest a three-point attempt by Wachusett's Zack Berman with 44 seconds to go.

[+] EnlargeAtkinson
Brendan Hall/ESPNMilford rallied from an 18-point third quarter deficit behind Joe Atkinson, who sealed it with a block in the final minute
Atkinson (11 points) got all ball, and then put in the breakaway layup, for a 45-41 lead. The Scarlet Hawks held on 46-44 to move on to next Sunday's Division 1 Central Final, against St. John's of Shrewsbury, but boy was the outcome hanging by a thread.

"I went crazy. I just knew they were going to shoot it because they had two big men out, so I just went for it," Atkinson said of the block. "After that block, I just got a rush. I felt amazing, it was awesome."

Said Milford head coach Steve Manguso, "Atkinson was unbelievable. That block he made on Berman, making steal after steal, it was an incredible performance."

Michael Tracy came up with a steal for the Hawks with 25 seconds to go, but the ball quickly went the other way after David Mercier (17 points) was called for an offensive foul. The Mountaineers took advantage, with a tip-in from senior forward Alex Cooper (16 points, 10 rebounds) with 12 seconds to go.

Wachusett immediately fouled on the ensuing inbound, putting Atkinson at the line for two. He made the front end, and after he mised the second Cooper smartly tossed the ball off a Milford player out of bounds.

From there, up 46-43, the Hawks decided to foul, putting Berman at the line with five seconds to go. He made the first, and intentionally missed the second, but an ensuing scrum let the ball drift into Milford's end as time expired.

"We had a feeling they were going to foul us up three," Wachusett coach Tom Gibbons said. "So we were hoping Berman could get it and shoot it, and they fouled us right away. Five seconds is a little too short on time in order to have him make the second, so we had him miss and we [hoped to] tip it out fora three actually. But we tipped it too hard -- it's a hard play, but that's what we were trying to do, tip it out and we've got two 3-point shooters right on the line."

Milford trailed by as much as 18 in the third quarter (34-16), and Wachusett's Jesse Maresca hit his stride early. The senior guard had more points in the first half (15) than the entire Milford team, which trailed 27-14 going into the break.

Some schematic adjustments at halftime gave the Hawks some breathing room to work with. A switch in their zone press helped, going from a 2-2-1 to a 2-1-2, matching up out of it and trapping along the sidelines.

The Hawks were also more efficient on the boards, getting great help-side rotation to seal underneath. The Hawks outrebounded the Mountaineers 13-8 in the second half, and held them to 35 percent from the field (7-for-20).

"It was a tale of two halves, I'm real proud of my kids that's for sure," Manguso said. "It was an unbelievable game."

Recap: No. 1 Mansfield 76, No. 23 Milford 52

February, 5, 2013

MILFORD, Mass. -– With the new No. 1 team in the state in Mansfield visiting, the No. 23 Milford Hawks (14-2) looked to deliver a knockout punch in the first round.

They landed a shot, but it wasn’t enough to keep Mansfield down, as the Hawks’ first quarter lead turned into a 76-52 loss at the hands of the No. 1 Hornets (16-1).

Milford went toe-to-toe with Mansfield in the first quarter, evening coming away with a 23-22 lead. But as Milford slowed, Mansfield continued to roll, pulling out the 24-point win.

“We’re getting everyone’s best,” Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan said. “It was a great atmosphere. I said to my guys when they called their first timeout at 13-13, ‘They just threw their biggest punch, and we’re still tied.’”

Milford jumped out to an early lead, and extended it to as much as six. Mansfield bounced back to take the lead midway through the quarter, but a free throw at the end of the quarter gave the Hawks the lead.

“They just came out firing,” Mansfield sophomore Brendan Hill said. “I was real proud of my team, we bounced right back. We took their punch and delivered one back.”

After an exciting first quarter, the Hornets stepped up big defensively, only allowing four Milford points in the second quarter on just one field goal and two free throws.

“I think at some level the game fatigue starts to kick in and the adrenaline level starts to come down,” Vaughan said on the contrasting quarters. “It wasn’t as much of an adjustment as it was just executing the game plan a little better.”

Hill and junior Rocky DeAndrade both finished with a team-high 17 points for the Hornets, while Milford senior David Mercier was the only Hawk in double-figures at 21.

DeAndrade and Hill both found success offensively in the third quarter, when Mansfield turned a 11-point halftime lead into a 16-point difference to start the fourth quarter. DeAndrade had nine in the third.

“They started to press us so that started to open up gaps for us,” DeAndrade said. “I was getting deny defense so I started playing the middle.”

As it has been for this season, Mansfield has received strong play from not only the starters, but from their deep bench. Senior Greg Romanko had 13 points, sophomore Ryan Boulter had 12, junior Kevin Conner had 9 and sophomore Michael Boen had 8.

Conner, who didn’t practice yesterday because his knee was bothering him, added a big spark including a first half dunk, and four second-half offensive boards that kept Mansfield’s lead in safe distance.

“He got two [offensive rebounds] off free throws which is unusual and got the big dunk,” Vaughan said. “Defensively, he was outstanding. I was very happy with his play tonight.”

Milford’s Michael Tracy had eight points, while Michael Titlebaum finished with seven.

Both teams will be back in play on Friday in key Hockomock divisional games as Milford hosts Oliver Ames and Mansfield will host No. 20 Taunton.

Mansfield will now look to continue their winning ways on Friday with a visit from the Taunton Tigers. When these two teams met in the beginning of January, the Hornets edged out a 68-62 win. Now Taunton will be looking for revenge and Vaughan expects another great game.

“I say this with Taunton playing a really good game the first time, but I actually expect a better game out of them,” he said. “I’m excited and I’m happy to be at home. They’re backs are against the wall and they pretty much have to win to stay in [Hockomock] contention.”

In the win last time, Hill had 24 points while DeAndrade had 16. Hill expects the same effort from Taunton this time around.

“A lot of energy,” Hill said on what he’s expecting. “They are fast and quick. I think we handled it really well last time. Hopefully we can get out to a bigger lead and open things up a bit.”

Mansfield was ranked as the top team in the state for the first time this season in the latest Top 25 poll that came out this week, but Hill didn’t feel any added pressure with the new number next to the team’s name.

“It doesn’t get to our team’s heads at all,” Hill said. “We just want to go out and win, we’ll beat anyone we play. We don’t get big heads or anything like that. We just want to go out and win.”

When Vaughan saw they were ranked as the best in the state, it brought back a familiar feeling.

“I got the feeling that I got the first time, in my fourth year, when Mansfield showed up in the Top 25,” he said. “It’s not something you can say often for a team for a suburban town in southeastern Massachusetts that you can be number one.”

But Vaughan noted how often the top teams have fallen in the NCAA this season, and hopes his team can use that as a guideline going forward.

“It puts a bigger bulls-eye on our back,” Vaughan said. “At the end of the day, our guys are realistic. We had goal number one of making the tournament. We had goal number two of winning the Hock. Number three is winning games in the tournament. If we can do those things, our goals are accomplished regardless of the additional accolades.”