D2 North: Arlington 60, Tewksbury 52


WOBURN, Mass. -- The front of Arlington's warm-up shirts reads: “Heart Over Hype.”

Neither the Spy Ponders (24-1), nor their opponents Tewksbury (20-5) receive much hype, as neither program has been very successful in recent years. But both teams showed an unbelievable amount of heart during their exciting MIAA Division 2 North Semifinal matchup.

In the end, the second-seeded Spy Ponders displayed enough resolve to advance with a 60-52 win.

From the opening tip, Arlington attacked Tewskbury’s glaring weakness on the defensive glass. The Spy Ponders generated 12 second-chance points on nine offensive rebounds, as they out-rebounded the Redmen 20-4 over the first half.

“We don’t have size on a lot of teams, but we knew we had an advantage against [Tewskbury],” said Arlington coach John Bowler. “We wanted to get a shot up on every possession, so we could crash the glass, and get easy baskets on second chance points.”

The Redmen didn’t grab their first rebound until the 2:30 mark of the first quarter, but managed to keep things close by forcing turnovers in bunches. Going into halftime, they only trailed 32-28 after turning the Spy Ponders over 11 times during the first two quarters.

With Miles Robinson, Frank Roche, and Matt Moroney all over the offensive glass, Arlington jumped out to an early 12-2, but Tewksbury point guard Nate Tenaglia brought his team back. The 5-foot-7 gamer nailed a contested three to give the Redmen their first lead of the night at 23-22, and seemed to control the pace of play while the lead changed hands nine times over the next 8 minutes of gameplay.

Then Robinson got a crack at him.

A versatile athlete that’s played soccer for the Under-18 U.S. National Team, Robinson proved why he’s the reigning Co-MVP of the Middlesex League in basketball. With the game tied at 38, the 6-foot-3 forward switched onto Tenaglia, and Arlington promptly went on a 7-0 run to take a 45-38 lead at the end of the third quarter.

“Miles is unbelievable,” effused Bowler. “He does it all. He can guard a wide range of players, and he gave Tenaglia problems with his length. He’s quick enough to stay in front of him, but also bothered his shot, and the fact that he can guard all five positions is huge.”

Along with Tenaglia, Tewksbury captains Alex DiRocco and Joe Csokmay each nailed huge three-pointers to keep the Redmen’s hopes alive in the fourth quarter, but the Spy Ponders shot a perfect 10 for 10 from the free throw line to close it out.

Incredible Turnaround: Although the Redmen lost, this was the furthest they had advanced in the state tournament since 1973.

Prior to head coach Phil Conners’ arrival four seasons ago, Tewksbury had only appeared in the MIAA tournament once over the last 13 years. Now, with the help of a talented crop of seniors, Conners has completely changed the perception of Tewksbury basketball.

“I don’t want to focus on the negatives, because the way those players have turned around this program is unbelievable,” said Conners. “We did it with our kids, our way, and we didn’t give it our best swing tonight. I think we got out-toughed. We got pushed around on the boards, and they’re not much bigger than us, we just got off to a terrible start.”

The Final Exam: Now, the Spy Ponders can look forward to a matchup with undefeated Danvers in the North Sectional finals on Saturday night.

While Arlington would have to win two more games to earn a Division 2 state title, the Falcons present as tough a test as any team that is left in the tournament.

With 11 seniors on the roster, Bowler is confident that his players will be ready for the challenge, especially with Robinson leading the charge.

“[Robinson] may guard [Falcons star forward] Devan Harris on Saturday night,” Bowler said. “He’s that versatile. It’s a great matchup, they’re 24-0, we’re 24-1, so we’ve got a combined record of 48-1, and we’re the one and two seeds going head-to-head, which is how it should be. Our goal was to get a crack at them, and now it’s there for us to take.”

Bowler’s players showed tremendous heart on Thursday night as they dispatched the tenacious Redmen, but they’ll have to be even better on Saturday if they want to upend Danvers.

Arlington 60, Tewksbury 52

AR 24 21 22 11 --- 60

TW 10 15 14 15 --- 52

Top Performers:

Arlington – Miles Robinson (15 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists)

Arlington – Frank Roche (10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals)

Arlington – Josh Lee (13 points, 6 of 6 from the FT line)

Tewksbury – Alex DiRocco (17 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals)

Tewksbury – Nate Tenaglia (17 points, 4 assists, 2 steals)

Tewksbury – Joe Csokmay (8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals)