By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Springfield – When two teams collide with a combined record of 46-2 and there is a Division 1 state championship on the line, it’s safe to say that a lively evening of high school basketball is in store for an enthusiastic crowd of supporters at Springfield’s MassMutual Center.
Neither team disappointed when the teams took to the floor on March 19, but it was Eastern Mass. champion Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School coming out on top over Central Mass. titleholder St. John’s High School, 66-51, before hundreds of loyal Pioneer fans that donned the school’s traditional red colors to exhort their team on in its quest for its first state championship since 2009.
The Pioneers advanced to the Division 1 state final with decisive wins versus Wachusett Regional (73-58), Franklin (67-52) and four-time defending Western Mass. champion Putnam Voke (65-48). The team had won 17 straight coming into their matchup with the powerful Falcons, many with margins of victory of 20 points or more.
The Pioneers put forth a solid, all-around team effort led by senior guard Adham Floyd who notched 15 of his overall 19 points in the first half for a 27-26 St. John’s halftime lead. Floyd, a four-year standout, managed to surpass the coveted 1,000-point plateau, ending his brilliant career with 1,013.
“Adham played very, very well tonight but you’re going against a big, strong shot-blocking team and things aren’t easy, but I thought he more than held his own out there,” said head coach Bob Foley, whose team finishes at 23-2.
The third quarter turned out to be the team’s undoing as the Falcons executed to near perfection going on a 13-4 run, for which St. John’s had no answer. Joe Murphy nailed a buzzer-beater to close the lead to 46-37 but the damage had been done. Cambridge extended the lead to as much as 15 points in the fourth quarter with speed, accurate shooting and solid rebounding, both offensively and defensively.
“We played well in the third quarter but that kid (6’8” Dimon Carrigan) was exceptional (shot blocking),” Foley said. “We took the ball strong to the hole and he put it back in our face. It wasn’t us not playing our game. We were not intimidated in any way.
“This is a game. You put it behind you. You can’t do anything about it. If you told me at the beginning of the year that this team was going to win 23 basketball games, I’m just so pleased. I have no problem handling a loss. You just put it behind you and move on.”
“St. John’s of Shrewsbury is a wonderful team. They’re well-coached,” said Falcons head coach Lance Dottin, whose team was last crowned champions in 2001 and finished at 24-1. “They’ve had a great run in central Mass. Ten times they’ve been to the title game. You have to be really good to do that and coach (Bob Foley) does a wonderful job and those are great kids. Tonight we were very fortunate to capture this victory.”
Gracious in defeat were Pioneers Floyd, Nicholas Lukasevicz and Murphy, all seniors whose high school careers concluded on a high level, despite the evening’s results.
“We fought hard all season and it was awesome being here with a bunch of my brothers, I want to call them,” said Lukasevicz, who along with Murphy each scored eight points as did junior Cole Stairs. “We played our hearts out tonight and I wouldn’t want to be here with anyone else.”
“I’m just proud of these guys this year. We have some great memories and I had a great time playing with these guys,” added Floyd. “I’m sad I’m not going to be playing with them next year. Tonight, the results didn’t fall in our favor.”
“We have a motto on this team that we play for one another. We’re a team first,” Murphy explained of the Pioneer game philosophy. “One guy isn’t any higher than any other. We’re a team. We just play for one another.”
Members of the 2016 state championship finalists are seniors Adham Floyd, Joe Murphy, Nicholas Lukasevicz and Joe Lewis along with juniors Alex Bradley, Matthew Sacco and Cole Stairs. Sophomores are Hunter Gorgas, Tyler Mola, Sean Burke, Jackson Emus and Steven Bucciaglia joined by freshmen Robert Duquette and William Goss.
Prior to the game and during the medals ceremony, the St. John’s team wore blue Massachusetts State Police t-shirts, in honor of fallen Trooper Thomas Clardy, whose son is a senior at St. John’s.