By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Westborough / Worcester – The notion of earning a berth in the area’s most long-standing and prestigious high school basketball tournaments, never mind advancement to the title round, would admittedly have raised eyebrows a mere twelve months ago and for good reason.
After relegated to being afterthoughts in the always-tough Mid-Wach B last year (6-13), this Westborough High bunch (14-8) has turned a corner in a big way and in doing so advanced to the Clark Tournament Large School Final at Kneller Gymnasium on Feb.25. Unfortunately, the road to the title ended all too abruptly as top-seed Bartlett High unleashed its “three-headed monster” (Tyler Davern, 28 points, Cody Adams, 13 points, Anthony Grzembski, 12 points) in a matchup won handily by the Indians, 72-61.
The seventh-seed Rangers advanced to the title game with wins over Grafton High, 59-54, and Nashoba Regional in a 68-41 semifinal upset stunner. The Chieftains won both regular season games over Westborough and almost no one would have predicted such a dominant victory that was highlighted by a combined 37-point performance by sophomore twins Matt and Mike Doherty, who cashed in with 13 and 24 points, respectively.
“I’m extremely proud of this group,” said Ranger head coach Brian Willar following the title game. “We have a very diverse team with five sophomores and seven seniors. We wanted to get here and once we won that first game, the kids felt like the jitters were gone. We played a great game against Nashoba but quite honestly, it’s hard to win three in a row, but I’m proud of my guys, proud of their effort and we’ll be back.”
The first quarter was evenly-matched with teams exchanging the lead resulting in a 16-16 split following the opening eight minutes. It was here that Bartlett erupted with a 16-4 run with the Indians’ Davern controlling play with key baskets and rebounds (15 on the night) that halted Westborough offensively leading to a 36-26 Indians halftime lead which would never be relinquished.
“That’s what they’re gonna do. At some point, they’re going to have that big quarter,” explained Willar. “Unfortunately, we went kind of cold. We were playing catch-up most of the time. Tyler (Davern) showed why he’s the leading scorer in central Mass. (24 points per game average). But I give our kids credit. They worked hard.
“Bartlett’s a senior-led team. We were playing four sophomores most of the time but that’s no excuse. You have to tip your hat to them. This was a great learning experience for our sophomores and now they know what it’s about and it’s certainly something they want to get back to.”
One sophomore giving it all he had was Matt Doherty who had earlier suffered a facial injury and was relegated to competing with a protective mask that seemed problematic throughout.
“I think he had some trouble getting used to it,” said Willar. “But that’s no excuse and that’s not the reason we lost.”
Leading scorers on the night for Westborough were Jake Hughes and AJ Nowak with 15 points apiece. Matt Doherty and Domenic Caspariello each chipped in with 12.
No Westborough player had ever participated in a Clark Tournament contest, so that while falling short was disappointing, the experience will be one to remember always for these Rangers while providing incentive moving forward.
“You look around at the gym being packed like this and it’s kind of unbelievable,” said sophomore guard Hughes. “It was cool for this to happen especially having such a young group. Tonight we couldn’t get the job done, but we definitely have momentum going into the playoffs.”
“The thing about my team is that we don’t quit. We fought to the end,” said Willar. “We could have packed it in but these kids go until you can’t play anymore. I’m proud of my guys.
“This was a great experience. We wanted to win the tournament but came up a little bit short. Now we’ll go back to work. We’re going to play Groton-Dunstable in the playoffs. They beat us twice but we’re not letting that put on any extra pressure. We’ll be ready.”
Members of the 2017 Clark Tournament Large School finalist Westborough High are seniors Reed Chandler, Kyle Clarkson, Ethan Gaffney, Vinny Rosa, James Coffey (captain), Ryan Hughes, AJ Nowak and sophomores Domenic Caspariello, Jack Lentine, Mike Doherty, Matt Doherty and Jake Hughes.