WESTBOROUGH – Watch out, Central Massachusetts. The Rangers are rolling.
Although Westborough’s boys basketball squad has struggled in recent years – sporting a 6-33 record over the last two seasons – the team has officially reentered the limelight. The Rangers defeated the Groton-Dunstable Crusaders, 74-69, on Friday night to secure their 10th win, clinching the team’s first state tournament appearance since the MIAA restructured the playoff format in 2021.
“It feels pretty good… For the group of guys we have right now, they grew up watching the guys get there, and it’s a testament to these guys. We work hard – our effort is off the charts. I’m so happy for the guys – they work so hard. We put the work in in the offseason leading up to this. We fully expected this. We made big plays tonight, and we executed all night long,” Westborough Head Coach Brian Willar said after the game.
The monumental win did not come easy. Groton-Dunstable fought hard throughout the game. Zachary Romich, the team’s 6-foot-2-inch junior guard, scored 19 for the Crusaders, including five three-point makes. Matt Fuccione added 14 points. The Crusaders relied on the three-pointer throughout the game – 39 of the team’s 69 points came from beyond the arc – and when the shots weren’t falling, Groton-Dunstable struggled. The Crusaders led, 15-14, after the first quarter, but the more-consistent Westborough team eventually prevailed.
Groton-Dunstable had the three-point shot (at times), but Westborough had size and toughness. Joe Marino, a senior captain, scored 13 while dominating the boards. The football all-star – who recently committed to continue his career on the gridiron at Saint Anselm College – grabbed seven offensive and seven defensive rebounds, keeping Westborough in control of the action throughout the game.
“I just try to use my strength and all my abilities that I learn from other sports like football,” Marino said.
“Joe has become quite a force this year. He brings that mental toughness to us. I think teams don’t realize – they know he’s big, but they don’t realize he can get the work done,” Willar told the Community Advocate, adding that the team “took advantage of [their] size” to win.
Westborough’s panoply of experienced players rounded out the scoring. Nick Bellofatto, a senior captain, was the team’s offensive engine, scoring 27 points and going 10-of-11 from the free-throw line. Simon Bleier and Justin McCafferty each had 12, and Alec Desrosiers added 10 points and 7 rebounds.
“Honestly, I have a bunch of kids that are totally committed to basketball during the season. I’ve got a lot of multi-sport athletes who bring toughness from the other sports. With that – and with the group of guys I have that are straight basketball players – we have the right pieces. We have bigs, we have shooters, we have guard play… It’s a good group that works hard. Everything that they get they deserve,” Willar said.
In particular, the team’s core group of five seniors – Bleier, Sathvik Gopaluni, Bellofatto, Marco Micucci, and Marino – has helped the Rangers reach the 10-win mark. The group had experience, but it was experience losing. Now, they’re finding success in the final months of their high-school basketball careers.
“I think it’s the seniors. There’s five of us on this team, and we were sick of losing the last two years. Nobody likes losing. So, we developed a winning mindset on our team; it’s our last year together, so we wanted to put it all together and have the best season we possibly can,” Marino explained.
The season isn’t quite over, and Westborough now focuses on the remaining regular-season schedule – which includes three 10-win teams. But for the group of seniors, who haven’t yet played playoff basketball, officially securing their spot in the tournament was something special.
“I’m just looking forward to playing in the playoff game. I haven’t done it… It’s special – not many people get to do that,” said Marino.