LOWELL -- Last year, Brighton guard Malik James left the Division 2 North sectional title game in tears after falling to eventual state champion New Mission.
On Saturday night, he nearly did the same, albeit for different reasons.
Brighton (20-3) went on an 11-2 run to open the section title game at the Tsongas Center and never trailed at any point, leading by as many as 14, en route to a 66-59 victory over fifth-seed Wakefield.
“Going into this game I was very nervous," said James, who led all scorers with 19 points. “As soon as I walked into the arena, I remember the moment that I cried, we were in the locker room ... I went home and it was all on my mind, and knowing that we came out with a victory I want to cry again, but tears of joy this time.”
After faltering last year on the same stage, the Bengals enter the state tournament for the first time in school history. They'll play Stoughton in the Division 2 Eastern Mass title game.
“It feels good,” Brighton coach Hugh Coleman said. “We know that there’s two more games to go, and we’d like to come out on the upside of those games as well, so for this moment it feels really good.”
Brighton’s quick start was helpful, but Coleman also had his team well prepared for any problems along the way, of which there were plenty despite leading by double digits for nearly the entire 32 minutes.
“I said [to the guys] 'listen, some things are not going to go our way, but we just got to continue to play through it,' " Coleman said. "We know that were capable to come out on the other side of those [types] of games."
Bengals shooters had trouble finding a rhythm early on, particularly from beyond the arc. Poor shooting and untimely turnovers allowed the Warriors (17-7) to hang on just enough to avoid a blowout.
Despite missing their best rebounder, 6-foot-5 center Tre Dowan, who was out with a broken finger, Brighton outworked Wakefield on the Warriors’ offensive glass throughout the first half, taking away any second chance opportunities Wakefield could have had. Brighton led, 36-22, at halftime.
“Last year really showed us when our guards are rebounding we have a great advantage,” Coleman said. “So we tried to emphasize that all year. I felt when we played Melrose, our guards didn’t do a great job rebounding .. so I made a big deal, guards have to rebound.”
Wakefield was able to cut the deficit to seven points with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Leading 63-56, James missed what could have been four critical free throws if Wakefield had been able to convert on their end of the court. But twice the Warriors came up with the ball after missed shots and twice they were unable to cut into the Bengals’ lead.
“They were the better team, for us, it was they were better than we were,” Wakefield coach Brad Simpson said. “[Malik] got them off to a great start and then they just kept control of the game. They were just better than us.”
Several reporters and editors contribute updates, news and analysis to the High School Sports Blog.
- Bob Holmes: A Reading resident (Go Rockets!) and Boston College graduate, Holmes is the Boston Globe High School Sports Editor. We remind you now that his weekly picks are often made in jest so everyone just calm down when he picks against Everett for 11 straight weeks. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHolmes.
- Craig Larson: A native of West Springfield (Leo Durocher anyone? Tim Daggett?) and Curry College graduate (a proud Colonel!), Larson is the sports editor for the Globe's regional sections: South, West and North, as well as a frequent contributor on the college beat. Abington to Xaverian: it all starts with the schools. Have a compelling story idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeLars.
- Zuri Berry: Berry attended the same high school as sports legends O.J. Simpson and Joe DiMaggio. (Guess which one is his hero.) He's a South Boston resident (formerly of Eastie) and the editor of the High School Sports blog as well as the go-to-guy for everything high school sports on Boston.com. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @GlobeSchools for all of the latest updates.
Then there are our winter correspondents:
- Emily McCarthy | @EmilyMcCahthy | BPS correspondent
- Jake Fischer | @GlobeFischer | Boys basketball
- Michelle Fenelon | @michfenelon | Girls basketball
- Andrew MacDougall | @Andy_MacDougall | Boys hockey
- Liz Torres | @etorres446 | Girls hockey
To reach the high school sports department, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.