Fourth time's a charm as Winthrop tastes D4 title

BOSTON -- Neither participant in yesterday's Division 4 state championship game seemed willing to give an inch, so someone was going to have step up and make something happen. That someone turned out to be Winthrop junior Joe D'Amore.

D'Amore used an array of transition hoops, free throws and a big 3-pointer during a five-minutes it was pan in the fourth quarter where he outscored Cohasset, 11-7. It may not have been the biggest run, but the most important one, as the Vikings took a nine-point lead and made six free throws in the final minute to hold off Cohasset for a 58-55 victory and the Div. 4 state title.

“It just felt like someone had to step up and I did,” said D’Amore, who finished with 15 points. “I got a couple baskets in transition and got in my groove from that. That’s how I like to get going, with baskets in transition.”

The victory was extra sweet for Winthrop (19-6), who reached the Div. 4 North sectional final in each of the last four years, but suffered heartbreaking losses in the last three. If any team has paid it's dues, it's the Vikings.

"All season long we kept on saying, we don’t want to win, we have to win," Winthrop coach David Brown said. "The seniors have been to the North finals four years in a row and they didn’t want to go out on a losing note."

"This is just the cherry on top of the pie," Brown continued. "It’s so sweet to win the state championship. We’ve had some tough losses in the last three years in the North finals but these kids always had the attitude that next year was going to be the year."

Along with D'Amore, the Vikings other hero was senior center Anthony Hatzisavas. A four-year player for Winthrop, the 6-4 senior missed all but four games of his junior year and four more this year after having December surgery for a herniated disc in his back.

Playing through the pain, the Vikings big man came through with a team high 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a victory he called the biggest accomplishment of his life.

"I missed pretty much all last year. I had surgery in December. Went through rehab, missed first four games this year," recalled Hatzisavas. "The best accomplishment I ever had in my whole life. I don’t think I’ll ever have another feeling like this. It’s just the best feeling ever, knowing we finally got over the hump and I’m going out on top."

Winthrop ended the first quarter with a 16-9 lead, but Cohasset (22-3) came storming back to score the first eight points of the second, and took a 17-16 lead on a pair of free throws by Robert Jones. Michael Griffin put an end to the Skippers spurt with a 3-pointer of his own, and both squads settled in for a dogfight.

"We didn’t get off to what would be our normal start and dug a little bit of a hole early," admitted Cohasset coach Bo Ruggerio. "I thought Winthrop was very well prepared and I thought we were well prepared but unfortunately we didn’t box out early. I thought when we got our fast break and got the press going we were able to stick in there."

D'Amore's eruption in the final frame helped Winthrop open its biggest lead of the game at 53-43. Cohasset rallied behind Shane Haggerty, who had a game best 17 points and seven points in the final minute to drag his Skippers close. Junior Kyrel Jaundoo added 12 points and 10 rebounds for Cohasset.