By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Worcester – Opposing teams have learned all too painfully this season that giving the St. John’s High varsity basketball team an extra inch will result in fatal consequences.
Fourth-ranked Wachusett Regional High (15-7) became the latest team to learn that painful lesson on March 5 when the top-seed Pioneers seized a golden opportunity that allowed them to open up an insurmountable lead in the Central Mass. Division 1 semifinals at WPI’s Harrington Auditorium. By virtue of its 73-58 victory over the Mountaineers, St. John’s (21-1) moves on to seek back-to-back District titles when the team squares off with third-seed Franklin (17-5) here on Wednesday, March 9 at 7 p.m.
Both teams exchanged leads in the opening quarter, but when Wachusett’s scoring punch failed to produce in the second quarter, the Pioneers took full advantage and opened up a 36-29 halftime lead. That lead stretched to as much as a 21-point bulge in the third quarter as key baskets by Adham Floyd, Nick Lukasevicz, Sean Burke and Cole Stairs put this one out of reach.
“These kids hang tough. We did the right things,” said St. John’s head coach Bob Foley. “We got off to a little bit of a slow start and then righted ourselves. Usually we play very well in the third quarter and we had another very good third quarter.”
The Pioneers managed to contain three-time Midland A MVP Tyler Dion just enough to engineer the victory. Dion, one of the school’s all-time top scorers, and team captain Ryan McCarthy, both seniors, were held to 28 and 11 points, respectively. Despite those lofty numbers, the St. John’s fiery offense more than offset the high point totals.
“We know that he’s going to play the whole game without coming out so whoever he’s guarding, we try to have that guy, who happened to be Tyler Mola, to just keep running off screens and really try and tire him out and get his legs tired,” explained Foley of his strategy versus Dion. “First half we jumped him because he’s just an outstanding player but in the second half we played him straight most of the way, and when we played them first time around (December 29), that’s what we did.
“He’s a tough kid,” said Foley of Bentley University football-bound McCarthy. “He rebounds but he goes to the hole so strong and always finds an opening but that did not surprise us. We knew what he was and we knew he would make a difference which obviously he did.”
“Sometimes it’s a make or miss-game and they were making everything and ours seemed to just rattle in and out,” explained Wachusett head coach Tom Gibbons. “We don’t have great size so our perimeter stuff is what we rely on. We just didn’t make shots.
“It’s tough to come back on a team like this. They play such good defense and rebound the ball so well. We’ve done a great job on the glass all year and they beat us up on the backboard and he who controls the backboard controls the game.”
For his part, Foley was effusive in his praise of his team’s all-around play in stopping any significant attack by the Mountaineers. Floyd, with 21 points including a four-point play conversion, was domineering as were mates Lukasevicz who chipped in with 16 points while Burke added 10, Mola 9, Stairs 8 and Alex Bradley 7.
“It’s a little different than other teams that I’ve had when you’ve got those snipers out there and you have to respect them,” Foley said. “We just have to get a few more points in the paint. I thought Adham Floyd was immense in everything he did. He played great defense, but I thought the thing he did the best was defensive rebounding.”
The Pioneers, who have decimated opponents by as much as 20 and 30 points this season, advanced to semifinal play by soundly defeating Worcester’s Doherty High, 82-50, on March 3 at St. John’s. It was the third victory for St. John’s over the Inter-High champions, the others coming by margins of 34 and 24 points. The eighth-seed Highlanders ended their season with a record of 11-11.
In the win, the Pioneers advanced their winning streak to 14 games with big nights by several including Floyd, who led all scorers with 15 points. Burke contributed 14 points while Bradley hit for 11 and Joe Murphy 8. Stairs and Will Goss each added six.