BROCKTON, Mass. -– Darien Fernandez is getting more out of his high school basketball career than most players do.
The 5-foot-7 star point guard led the way as his No. 1 Wareham team slipped past No. 4 Rockland, 61-56, at Brockton in a Div. 3 South Sectional Semifinal match-up, guaranteeing Fernandez and the Vikings will make their straight trip to the sectional finals.
Fernandez piled up 26 points to go with 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals as Wareham advanced to a repeat of last season’s finals match-up as they’ll take on No. 7 Martha’s Vineyard on Saturday at UMass-Boston.
“You really can’t stop a kid like that,” said Rockland coach Fred Damon. “He initiates contact, he gets us in foul trouble and he distributes the ball. We knew he was going to do what he was going to do, the key was we just didn’t want to be able to make everyone else better. We also wanted to be able to limit their threes.”
For the most part, Rockland (19-4) succeeded to limit the damage done by Fernandez’s supporting cast. It was the 3-pointer, however, that sent them home -– largely because Fernandez was able to find his guys open from distance.
“Darien’s been unselfish all year,” said Wareham coach Kevin Brogioli. “He loves to penetrate, but if there’s open players he’ll hit them. He’s done it all year. He leads our teams in points and assists and that’s a pretty potent combination.”
Wareham (22-1) knocked down eight 3-pointers in the game, led by Sam Brogioli who poured in four of them. Each one of his came from way downtown, beyond the range of Rockland’s coverage. He sealed the game with a fourth quarter heave nearly 10 feet beyond the arc.
“That one from about 25-feet away -– man, the backyard blacktop paid off on that one,” said coach Brogioli of his son. “I was happy for him because he struggled a bit early. He had open looks early too, and he wasn’t afraid to keep shooting his shot. He hit them down the stretch.”
Added Damon: “Give the kid credit -– those weren’t even just high school threes, they weren’t just college threes, they weren’t even NBA threes. They were even beyond that, and they were all nothing but net.”
Brogioli’s 14 points paired him with Fernandez in double-figures, but offense was harder to come by last night for Wareham than it had been in the first two rounds of the tourney.
“Their defense is good. I’d never seen that,” Fernandez said. “They really tried to take my shoes away so I couldn’t really drive and kick like I wanted to and like I like to do, so I just had to get to the rack.
Added Brogioli: “Their defense is very tough –- but we held them to 56. We knew what they’re capable of –- we knew that was the Rockland way. Ever since Bobby Fisher, and now Fred Damon does it. They’ve got tough kids.”
As Wareham, the defending South Sectional champs, advanced to the title game for the third straight year, they also got strong showings from Quintin Silveria (six points, four rebounds, three blocks), Mason Vasconcellos (eight points) and Latroy Hariston ( six rebounds).
EMOTIONAL GOODBYE FOR BULLDOGS
With the loss, Rockland also had to say goodbye to South Shore League MVP and UMass-Lowell bound Tyler Gibson.
A three-year varsity player who scored 986 career points, Gibson helped the Bulldogs win 54 games during his time there – an average of 18 per season.
The Bulldogs’ success this season could’ve have taken a hit if Gibson would’ve put himself ahead of the program. Last spring, prep schools sought out the 6-6 forward with promises of increased chances for a college scholarship.
Instead, Gibson chose stay Rockland for a chance to add something to the impressive basketball legacy there.
Gibson, who finished with 25 points and 21 rebounds, nearly added another chapter alongside Matt Nicholson (14 points, seven rebounds) and Bryan Tavares (14 points) before the Bulldogs fell just short on Monday night.
The scholarship offers came anyway –- he had one from Merrimack in addition to UMass-Lowell, all without having to leave a town he calls home.
“There’s no place like Rockland, and I’m serious when I say that,” Gibson said. “It’s the tradition; we’re just one big family. That’s why I stayed.”
During his career, he blossomed from a physically gifted athlete into something much more.
“I’ve grown up a lot since sophomore year -– all because of this program,” Gibson said. “Coach Damon, the whole coaching staff and my teammates and I can’t give them enough credit.”
While Gibson’s play blossomed on the court, it was his non-basketball skill that impressed his coaches most.
“Your blessed when you get players like that,” said coach Fred Damon. “Totally blessed. Those type of kids only come along every so often. You look at his stats -– and they’re tremendous -– but it’s much more than that. It’s his personality, it’s how hard he works, it’s everything.”