LOWELL, Mass. -- After Brighton cut New Mission’s double-digit third quarter lead down to two in the final frame, New Mission head coach Cory McCarthy was not nervous that his his team was losing momentum and could give up the lead.
His team rewarded him with a 56-54 down-to-the-wire victory, in the Division 2 North Sectional Final Saturday afternoon at the Tsongas Center.
“At no point did I think our seniors would let us lose that game,” McCarthy said. “We’ve been working too hard and had this vision for a long time. It takes a lot of guts to move from Division 4 to Division 2, and it paid off because these guys worked hard. They’re just winners. When you have that type of commitment to the game of basketball, the game will reward you every single time.”
New Mission (20-4) had a 33-23 lead at halftime after going on a 12-4 run in the last five minutes of the second quarter. They had a sluggish third quarter, and an at-the-buzzer three from Brighton’s Ronald Mack brought the deficit down to six points, 45-39.
When it appeared like the metaphorical wheels could be falling off for New Mission, its free throw shooting came through for them. Kachi Nzerem was particularly effective from the charity stripe for the Titans, converting 12-of-13 in the game.
As a team, New Mission was 26-of-34 from the line. Conversely, Brighton (14-6) was a mere 3-of-16. Even with the startling deficiency, Brighton was able to use its height to grab offensive rebounds, create second-chance points, and hit timely three-point shots to keep the game close.
“We knew they were going to come back, that’s just the heart of their team,” McCarthy said. “We knew it was going to come down to the final seconds, with free throws and we pulled it out.”
Bernadin St. Vil was a force underneath for the Bengals, grabbing 13 rebounds before fouling out with 2:45 remaining and his team down by three points, 51-48.
“We had to play good defense because they’re a great rebounding team,” Nzerem said. “We had to limit their second-chance points so good defense was key in this game.”
With effective defense down the stretch by New Mission, Brighton was never able to tie the game up. It was forced to foul in the waning seconds, but Nzerem converted the necessary free throws, allowing New Mission to take the championship home.
The win capped off an already successful afternoon for New Mission, which won the girls Division 4 North Championship in the preceding game over Fenway.
D4 Boys: Winthrop 55, St. Mary's (Lynn) 40
The fourth time was the charm for the Winthrop Vikings.
After having lost in the Division 4 North State Sectional Finals the past three years, they finally got over the hump Saturday, beating St. Mary’s of Lynn 55-40.
“We paid our dues,” Winthrop head coach David Brown said. “I told the team in practice that St. Mary’s is a very good basketball team. There was a lot of emotion involved in the game tonight, but we paid our dues. This team wanted it bad and they took it over in the end.”
St. Mary’s (17-7) did not hit a shot for the first five and a half minutes of the first quarter, which allowed Winthrop (18-6) to open up a 10-0 lead. After it finally got its first basket, it scored three more after that, cutting the Winthrop lead to 10-8.
“Getting that lead was huge, but losing it was bad for us,” said Taj Gennerazo (13 points). “The fact that we got it let us know what we were capable of.”
The two teams battled back and forth for the next two quarters, with Winthrop holding a distinct advantage on the glass. Quinton Dale, a 6-foot-3 junior, finished with 17 points to go along with 12 rebounds. Anthony Hatzisavas, its 6-foot-4 center, also contributed 10 boards.
“(Dale) is a kid that’s been averaging 18 points and 15 rebounds for the tournament, I told him he had to step up his game a little bit in the second half,” Brown said. “This is a kid that’s playing varsity for the first time this year. He was averaging 13 (points) and 10 (rebounds) for the season. He really took up his game, made some shots and got some rebounds that were key.”
“We earned this,” Dale said. “Coach kept telling us we paid our dues and finally it came through after four years.”
With four minutes to go and St. Mary’s down by nine points, Matt Manning fouled out of the game. Up to that point, he was a critical piece to the St. Mary’s offense with nine points and seven rebounds. Only Nick Gagliolo, who had 11 points, reached double-digits for the Spartans.
J.P. Doherty added 8 points for Winthrop, including 6-of-7 from the free throw line.
Winthrop will play Cohasset at the TD Garden next Tuesday for the right to move on to the state finals.
“We were willing to give our lives to go to the Garden, and we’re here, and now we’re going to win it all,” Gennerazo said.
D3 Boys: Watertown 55, Newburyport 31
Watertown rode stout defense and a second half surge by senior Marco Coppola to beat Newburyport 55-31 in the Division 3 Sectional finals, to earn a return trip to the TD Garden to face South champion Cardinal Spellman.
“This is my third time winning this. I won it my freshman, sophomore, and now senior year, but this isn’t the last goal we want,” said Coppola, who finished with 21 points and 5 rebounds. “We want to get back to the DCU Center and we want to win that. This is just another step along the way.”
Watertown (18-5) jumped out to an 11-6 lead in the first quarter, and that was when the defense first started to clamp down. For about seven minutes of game time, Newburyport did not score a basket, keeping its score at 6 while Watertown extended its lead.
In the second, Danny Kelly and Cory Donahue each hit 3-pointers, which helped their team take a 26-12 lead into the half. By that time, Kelly and Coppola each had seven points, meaning they alone were outscoring Newburyport (15-8).
Kelly finished the game with 14 points and 6 steals.
During the half, Watertown head coach Steve Harrington told his team to take the game over. Coppola came out and asserted himself on both ends of the floor. During one four-minute sequence, he had three steals on defense which created transition opportunities on the offensive end.
“Coach just told us to put the game away in the third quarter so I tried to step up my defensive intensity,” he said. “I knew defense and turnovers would lead to baskets so that’s what I tried to do.”
The Red Raiders lead 40-20 after the third, and the defense showed no signs of letting up.
“I think our defensive pressure overwhelmed them at times,” Harrington said. “I think that was the key to the game. It was the third game in a row that we’ve held someone in the thirties. I think we’ve taken our defense to another level. It’s certainly the strength of our team, our speed, our quickness, and our ability to defend.”
Brett Fontaine and Chris Jayne each had strong showings for Newburyport. Fontaine had 8 points and 9 rebounds, while Jayne had 11 points and 5 rebounds.
The Watertown defense had almost as many turnovers as Newburyport had points, with 29 to the Clippers’ 31 points.
“Defense has been the key to our success all year,” Coppola said. “I feel like we’re faster, quicker, smarter on defense than every team we play. That was the key to our success tonight.”