WORCESTER, Mass. -- In an MIAA state tournament that has seen triple-overtimes, 20-point second-half rallies and even a comeback with overtones of divine intervention, St. Clement head coach Leo Boucher called this one “as good a game as you’re going to see the rest of the season and beyond”.
Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. And while at times this Division 4 state final between Boucher's Anchormen and Western Mass. champ Quaboag was pretty, ultimately the overarching theme became survival. The Anchormen won out over the Cougars, 45-42, to capture their first basketball state title in the school's 89-year history, at the Hart Center on the campus of Holy Cross -- but only after watching three great Quaboag looks from behind the arc hit iron.
And even then, after 6-foot-8 junior center Eamonn Joyce (12 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) came down with the rebound after the third attempt clanked from the right corner with four seconds to go, the Anchormen still weren't yet out of the fog. Joyce dished to point guard Brandon Williams, who was immediately fouled. The waterbug point guard missed the front end of a one-and-one, which Quaboag's Greg Sokol immediately pounced on, then called a timeout.
Out of the timeout, having to go the length of the court, the Cougars were unable to get a shot off in time. Only then could the Anchormen truly breathe easy.
“You just saw 30 kids come into a gym, and do absolutely everything they’re supposed to,” Boucher said. “Every time we made an adjustment, they made an adjustment – it was a chess match. I think our athleticism might have helped us at the end, but this was a phenomenal basketball game.”
Talking about his emotions during those last three-point efforts, Boucher cracked, “I was hoping we’d have a little help from above”.
He continued, “They got great looks. We’re fortunate that those didn’t fall.”
The Anchormen led by as much as eight in the final quarter, after Eamonn Joyce’s three-point play on a put-back made it 39-31 with 5:52 to go. But the Cougars quickly clawed back, first on a three-pointer from Ethan Lacaire, then a nifty dish out of the corner from Jake Wisniewski that closed the lead to three. The polished 6-foot-5 stretch forward took two dribbles out of the corner and dropped a no-look pass across the baseline to Lacaire, who picked up a foul on his way up but couldn’t convert the three-point play.
Wisniewski hit big again with 3:50 to go on a three out of his familiar left corner to cut the lead to two, but St. Clement’s Emaru Pena – battling a foot injury sustained in Monday night’s Eastern Mass. Final win over St. Mary’s – came through in the clutch with a three-pointer that made it 45-39.
Once more, Wisniewski hurt the Anchormen with a heads-up play underneath their own basket. After an SC player corralled a defensive rebound, he lost control of it, and Wisniewski was there for the swipe and foul to cut the deficit to 45-42.
Williams missed the front of a one-and-one at the other end, giving Quaboag 35 seconds to force overtime. They missed three good chances from deep, before Joyce corralled a rebound to end the possession.
“I was definitely nervous,” Joyce admitted of the final possessions. “But I knew my team could pull it out in the end.”