WOBURN, Mass. -- Throughout this postseason, Wakefield coach Brad Simpson was able to look back at his 2008 team that went 11-9 during the regular season but made a run to the sectional finals and use them as a teaching point for this year's Warriors, most of whom were in middle school at the time.
Simpson is still preaching the same message: focus on one game at a time, play hard for 32 minutes, and leave everything out on the court. And that message is being heard once again.
Senior Keyon Armstrong finished with 16 points, while freshman Bruce Brown scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, to help No. 5 seeded Wakefield survive a battle to the wire with top-seeded North Andover and escape with a 47-45 victory in the Division 2 North semifinals Thursday night at Woburn High School.
Wakefield (17-6) will take on No. 3 Brighton (19-3) in Saturday's sectional final, at 7:45 p.m. at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.
"Four years ago we played in Tsongas against Reading and we lost," recalled Simpson after the game. "None of these kids were really around. They were around but they were eighth graders, seventh graders. The night we qualified, we beat Woburn ironically, and the coaches talked, the kids were interested about the tournament. They were interested in how it works, where do you go."
"We traced it four years ago, we traced the group that was not as good as this group," he continued. "We got in at 11-9 and we got the Tsongas Center. The message was, we play one game at a time, we don't look ahead, 32 minutes, no regrets. That's what they've done."
Fourth Quarter Adjustment Pays Off: After watching Armstrong torch the Scarlet Knights for four 3-pointers and 14 first-half points, you would think the Warriors would be inclined to stay with the hot hand in what was a nip-and-tuck battle from wire to wire.
Instead, what both the coaches and the players were noticing was Brown's continuous ability to beat his man off the dribble. It didn't matter that the freshman was struggling to get into the flow of the game. What mattered is that they had faith in Brown to take over at the end, and he rewarded that decision with a clutch performance.
With Wakefield trailing, 39-35, Brown hit two quick buckets to tie the game. After NA went back up by a point, Brown responded with a long jumper to move the Warriors back in front. The two teams traded the lead seven times in the final frame and NA went ahead, 45-43, after a clutch three by Zach Karalis, but Brown responded with a hoop of his to tie then had an assist on Mikol Blake-Green's tip-in that put Wakefield ahead for good with 1:03 remaining.
"I talked to (coach) and I said I could take him off the dribble," said Brown, retelling the conversation that led to the adjustment that put the ball in his hands. "He said alright, and started calling plays for me and I executed. I just felt good. People were telling me to take over, take over and I finally listened to them. At first I was nervous and I was like, let me just pass the ball, but then I just had to take it myself."
Added Simpson, "We thought we had a good matchup with their point guard and our point guard and in the first half, Keyon Armstrong with the threes was just huge. But we realized as the second half went on that the matchup off the dribble was Bruce. The kid covering Bruce, that's where we had an advantage.
"As a coach, you like to run stuff, you like to run your sets and this and that but when you want to win this kind of game, tonight, you give it to Bruce and he made the shots."
Sacrifice Today Symbolizes Season: For Armstrong, a senior, to yield the ball to his younger teammate in the middle of a strong performance of his own says a lot about his leadership ability and character. Armstrong simply couldn't miss in the early going, knocking down a pair of treys in both the first and second quarters as the Warriors took a 29-25 lead into halftime.
While Armstrong scored just one basket in the second half, his abilities as a distributor helped find open looks for Brown and his willingness to cede the spotlight over the final 16 minutes was a major reason why the Warriors are headed to the Tsongas Center.
"We knew if we came back, we had to secure that lead and that’s exactly what we did," Armstrong said. "We’ve gone through people making sacrifices, as in playing team ball instead of one on one ball. We’ve been a family since day one and that’s all we try to be. It just showed right here that anything’s possible when we work together."
After missing several games during the regular season because of an injury, Simpson is happy to have one of biggest weapons back in fighting form.
"He's an outstanding shooter," said Simpson in praise of his senior. "He got hurt during the season in practice, he hurt his wrist and had to sit out a couple of games. In the games he came back, he didn't shoot the ball very well. But it's feeling better now and I'm not sure that a lot of teams realize what a good shooter he is."