WORCESTER -- Phil DiPhillo came up with a critical block and a game-clinching free throw in the final seconds to wrap up Mahar’s first ever Division 2 state title on Saturday, as the Senators defeated Brighton, 45-41, at the DCU Center in Worcester.
“[DiPhillo’s] a gamer,” said Mahar coach Chad Softic of his 5-foot-10 shooting guard. “He’s a four-year starter. He broke his hand late in the season and we didn’t know whether we’d get him back, or what condition he’d be in. Luckily, we did. I just knew he could make the game-winning plays in crunch time because he’s done it for us for four years and he did it again today.”
Mahar’s defense was the difference in the game, as the Senators held the Bengals (21-4) – who scored just 3 points in the first quarter – 27 points below their season average.
Mahar's help defense did a solid job of stepping up and prevented Brighton point guard Malik James (10 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists) from getting into the paint where he could create shots for himself and teammates all game.
“We were going to make James show us that he could shoot,” said Softic, whose team led 23-14 at the half. “If they were going to beat us, they were going to have to knock down some shots. We just said, collapse, take charges, and make sure we get on the defensive glass.”
DiPhillipo (12 points, four rebounds) and fellow senior guard Jesse LaCroix (16 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) led the Senators (22-3) on offense, while senior forward Travon Godette chipped in with 8 points and five rebounds.
Mahar entered the fourth quarter up by 2, but quickly watched its lead disappear, when James found a cutting Jerard Mayes (8 points) for an alley-oop to tie the game at 33.
However, the Senators remained composed, scoring the game’s next six points to go up 39-33 with five minutes to play.
The Senator lead remained at 6 until the 2:02 mark, when Mayes put back an offensive rebound to give Brighton just its third and fourth points of the quarter. The teams then traded baskets before Theo Oribharbor knocked down a 3-pointer to bring the Bengals within three, 43-40, with one minute to play.
After the two teams traded free throws, the Bengals took the ball out down 3 with 11 seconds to play and that's where DiPhillipo came up with the defensive play of the game, blocking a potential game-tying 3-pointer and corralling the rebound.
“I just knew that they had to shoot a 3 because there wasn’t a lot of time left,” DiPhillipo said. “I was just trying to get to whoever had the ball and hopefully block it. And I did.”
DiPhillipo, who was immediately fouled, confidently hit his first free throw to make it a two-possession game and force the Bengals to wait at least one more year for their first-ever state title.
“It’s incredible,” DiPhillipo continued. “I was excited just to win Western Mass, winning states is just ridiculous.”
“You have to take your hats off to Mahar,” said Brighton coach Hugh Coleman. “They made some big plays. They made some big shots. I don’t know what you can do about that.”
“It’s been a beautiful season for us,” Coleman continued. “It has surpassed our expectations. We struggled at the very end of the regular season and entering the playoffs, then we clicked a little bit, so it’s been special. This is the first time our school has made it this far. That’s a great accomplishment. This is something we will learn from.”
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