MELROSE, Mass. -– Led in scoring by freshman Sherron Harris, No. 17 Melrose continued its unexpected unbeaten run on Tuesday night, sweeping rival Wakefield at home 67-62 to clinch the Middlesex League's Freedom division outright.
The Red Raiders (15-0) had four different players in double-figures: Harris (26 points, six steals), Matt Sherlock (11 points), Frantzdy Pierrot (17 points, nine rebounds), and Samuel Jean-Gilles (12 points, 11 rebounds).
Bruce Brown, Wakefield’s talented sophomore guard, spent all but two minutes of the first half on the bench, after picking up his third foul at the 5:42 mark of the first quarter.
Meanwhile Pierrot, a junior captain for the Raiders, set the tone early on with his defense and his athleticism. A built guard who is also a star soccer player, Pierrot forced several first half turnovers and dunked everything he could offensively. With two high-flying jams early in the first quarter, Pierrot’s aggressiveness trickled to the rest of his team.
The aggressiveness spread in particular to the freshman Harris, who weaved through traffic for his game-high 26 and was also 5-for-8 shooting from behind the three-point arc. A smooth guard with quick hands, Harris was a consistent pest defensively throughout the entire game, finishing with six steals -- four of which game in the first half.
“He didn’t play like a freshman in the first half," Melrose coach Mike Kasprzak said. "You probably saw his offensive game, but his defense set up most of those plays.”
In addition to Brown, Wakefield has one of the best big men in the Middlesex League, Mikol Blake-Green, as well as senior captain Kendall Hamilton, who can legitimately play three different positions.
Keeping Wakefield off the glass is easier said than done, but Jean-Gillies and Pierrot were able to do so successfully in the second half. The two were able to help keep Blake-Green relatively quiet following the first two quarters; he scored eight points in the second quarter, but only scored five after that.
“They’re a great team, [Wakefield] are going to be a force to be reckoned with," Kasprzak said. "Getting that lead was key, we obviously want to play better with that lead, but that has been us this year. We’ve had 20 point leads.
“But we love our guys, they play when it matters. They hit free throws when it mattered, they forced turnovers when it mattered, that’s the key.”
Brown’s efficiency: Bruce Brown was only able to tally one basket before taking a lengthy stay to bench for nearly all of the first half, picking up three fouls in the opening minutes. Brown came out aggressive defensively, but it was to his own dismay, as for strategic purposes, he couldn’t enter the game again until after halftime. The star sophomore, who recently came back from injury, made an immediate impact once he re-entered the game in the third quarter. He finished the game with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but his efficient 9-for-11 shooting from the field was what enabled Wakefield to make a late second half run.
“Hopefully next time we’ll have him out there for all 32 [minutes],” Wakefield coach Brad Simpson said. “It’s always good to have Bruce out there and playing. I thought collectively as a team we could have done better. We didn’t rebound defensively down the stretch in the second half. Melrose got second chances and usually converted on them. That, to me, was the game in the nutshell.”
Harris, the freshman who has seen Brown play on the AAU circuit, was very complimentary after the game.
“He has great athletic ability. He’ll be great going through his junior and senior year. Bruce will go far, that’s for sure,” Harris said.
Freshman makes a statement: Harris, younger cousin of last year’s Middlesex League MVP Jalen Adams, showed flashes of greatness against Wakefield, similar flashes that we saw last year from his older cousin.
Adams, a 2012 ESPN Boston All-State selection out of Melrose, transferred to Cushing Academy and reclassified to the Class of 2015 over the offseason. He has since seen his stock take off nationally, as he currently holds scholarship offers from Division 1 programs like UConn, Kansas State, and Providence.
Harris has learned a lot from his older cousin, but is also learning lessons daily from the older players on his team, who have taken him under their wing and shown him how to be a leader.
“The older guys on our team, Matt [Sherlock], Sam [Jean-Gilles], Frantzdy [Pierrot], toughen me up in practice to get me ready for the intensity of the games," Harris said. "They said coming into the Wakefield games or the playoff games there will be very big crowds, and lot of trash talking because the rivalry is huge. I use their advice a lot to help my game get better.
“They tell me to stay humble, because when you’re a freshman playing on varsity, people usually talk about that. They just tell me ‘shoot, even though you’re a freshman doesn’t mean you can’t shoot’ and ‘play your game’.”
Kasprzak is confident that Harris will be successful in a Melrose uniform. His advice for the youngster? Stay focused, and stay on track.
“Keep playing, don’t listen to people outside of here, and stay in the program," Kasprzak said. "We don’t brag we don’t talk, but we have a chance to win the league this year and next year, that’s never happened in Melrose history. He plays football and basketball, and we have tremendous programs here, so Melrose is a good place right now.”
Frantzdy Frenzy: Pierrot has only been playing organized basketball for four years. In that time, though, he has been able to develop himself into one of the most talented guards in the area. As mentioned, he is also a striker on the Melrose soccer team, and has shown he has the ability to play both sports at the college level -- an opinion also expressed by his coach.
“Great athlete, the thing about him is that he’s been playing for four years," Kasprzak said. "That fact that he’s this good, we’ve been talking to a lot of college [coaches], and he’s only a junior. He’s a tremendous soccer player too.”
Pierrot’s positive and hard-working attitude has been contagious to his teammates this year. It’s easy to see his fingerprints on the Red Raiders’ style of play—they are unselfish offensively, relentless on the offensive boards, and do all of this in a humble manner.
“He’s a student of the game, for a guy playing four years to do what he does, it’s tremendous. It shows his heart, his desire, and his intelligence. Very intelligent kid,” Kasprzak said.
They’re humble, but being underrated in the pre-season helped fuel Pierrot and his team to an impressive undefeated start. They seem to play defense with a chip on their shoulder.
“We were picked third in our league, so we’re just going to keep loving that up," Kasprzak said. "Playing the underdog role, that’s us.”