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No home court, but Fenway High girls’ basketball team excels

December 11, 2013 06:07 PM

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Fenway High Girls Basketball Team after winning last year's Division 4 championship. Photo credit: George Papayannis Photography

After a long day of school and a couple of hours of study hall, Cadejia Matthews sits on the bus on her way to practice. On days with a lot of reading assignments, she crams in 30 more minutes of homework on the ride to the gym. She won’t get home until around 7 p.m.

“We really try to get everything done before practice,” she says. “Then when we’re at basketball, we can focus on basketball.”

Matthews is the captain of Fenway High School’s girls’ basketball team. The girls have won the Division 4 State Championships in each of the past two years.

But they don’t have a wall to hang their banners on.

Fenway High is one of a handful of schools in the region without a home gym. The school doesn’t have the space to accommodate indoor athletic facilities – leaving its athletes without the luxury of heading straight to the court after classes.

The girls’ team is bused to practice at the Tobin Middle School and plays games at the Shelburne Community Center, both 20 to 30 minutes away in Roxbury. That means no home crowd, no Panther logo on the floor – technically, no home-court advantage.

“Of course we wish we had our own gym,” says Head Coach John Rice, “to make a place [other teams] are afraid to come into.”

But even without a home gym, the girls say they still feel support – which is why they’ve been able to persevere and win repeat championships, school officials say.

Headmaster Peggy Kemp advocates the importance of athletics and does what she can to support Fenway’s sports teams.

“Sports help students develop leadership and make the school feel more connected,” she says.

Kemp works with other school administrators to advertise the games around campus and organize fan buses to take students to pivotal end-of-season matches. If the team reaches the state finals, she makes arrangements for students to purchase discounted tickets and provides transportation to the TD Garden, where the championships are held.

“We do create a sense of community,” says Kemp. “The girls will bring out a lot of parents – not just their own, but their friends’ parents, other basketball fans -- and just other parents in the neighborhood who want to (show) support. The faculty gets really excited for the games and makes it out, too.”

Director of Athletics Julio Avila says the support offsets the lack of a home facility.

“One of the main reasons we’ve been so successful is the support they get from the headmaster and the coaches,” he says.

While the drive to practice cuts into the girls’ homework time, Fenway High, in partnership with Boston Scholar Athletes, provides athletes with an academic resource known as the “Panther Den.” The Den is a quiet study space for the school’s sports teams. After-school tutoring and SAT-prep sessions also are offered.

The focus on academics contributes to “a high basketball IQ” on the team and translates to an on-the-court work ethic, school officials say.

“We feel really supported when we’re at school,” says Matthews. In addition, teachers make themselves available to help students with homework after they’ve left campus, Matthews says.

Rice says the team has been tested repeatedly on the court, coming back from a big deficit or clinching a win in the games’ final minutes. During last year’s state tournament, for example, Fenway won after being down by eight points late in the fourth quarter.

Rice and Avila say the lack of a gym only accentuates the team’s mental toughness. The girls have been able to look forward and find success despite a daily commute, no banner on the wall and typically empty stands.

"We’ve got a group of positive thinkers,” Rice says. “We show sportsmanship and high character. The coaches, school, teachers, players – we’re all that way. That’s where our success is.”

The girls head into their first competition Dec. 12, against Kipp Academy.

"They’re ready to go at it again,” says Avila. “I have a strong feeling that they should be able to repeat and capture the state championship.”

This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.


Poem by former Wellesley High team captain honors late coach, Paul (Wally) Seaver

February 7, 2013 01:44 PM

Caroline Harrington, a senior captain on the 2011-12 Wellesley High girls’ team, wrote a poem honoring Paul (Wally) Seaver in the fall of 2011. The 53-year-old Seaver, a longtime coach at Milford, Franklin and Wellesley high schools, lost his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly know as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Tuesday morning.

Seaver asked that the poem be recited at his funeral on Friday.

“Though my time knowing him was short, I will never forget him,” Harrington, now a freshman at Hamilton College, said in her preface to the poem. “He was a part of my basketball family. Sadly, our charity basketball game probably will not result in a cure for this horrible disease. However, our entire basketball community—from elementary school CYO kids to Varsity Boys’ and Girls’ programs—was united for the love of the game, and for the sake of a great man.''

Here is the poem, titled "So We Play.''

I imagine him waking up - Choking on air

His extremities are limp from paralysis - His body is failing him

I see his family crying - His clock is ticking down

Putting on strong smiles - They care for him

I watch his team, filled with sadness - Their guide, their mentor

Is suffering - They are stricken with confusion

I cannot understand - I cannot find answers

I cannot make things right

But I can act

Because what else can I do?

I’m not going to be the passive girl - Filled with regrets

In honor of a man, However brief his role in our family was

He made an impact on our community - He helped to make our program great

And so we played for him

32 minutes of a beautiful game - Boys and girls

Varsity and JVers - We played for him

One family- One team

One community - We played for him

Though his time is short - He will never be forgotten

And when I’m down - I’ll always remember

We played for him.

And we always will.


This poem is dedicated to a man that was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was the Boys’ Junior Varsity basketball coach during the 2010-2011 season. His name is Coach Seaver. Though my time knowing him was short, I will never forget him. He was a part of my basketball family. Sadly, our charity basketball game probably will not result in a cure for this horrible disease. However, our entire basketball community—from elementary school CYO kids to Varsity Boys’ and Girls’ programs—was united for the love of the game, and for the sake of a great man. We acted together. We played together.


Malden boys and Somerville girls win outdoor track and field meet

April 26, 2012 09:07 AM

The Malden Golden Tornados swept three boys’ events, while the Somerville Highlander girls won 12 of 15, leading to each team’s victory in Wednesday afternoon’s dual meet at Somerville‘s Dilboy Stadium. Malden’s boys beat Somerville, 77-59 , and Somerville’s girls returned the favor, winning 91-39.

Malden used two two-race chunks to make up an early deficit and then take the lead. Down 18-9 early, freshman Berhanu Tsige led a Malden sweep in the 2 Mile, finishing in 11 minutes and 9.1 seconds. Sophomore Danny Gould and senior William Wong finished the nine-point sweep.

“Our distance team is strong,” Malden coach David Londino said. “We were [Greater Boston League] champs in cross country, and their efforts and ability carry right over onto the track.”

Following the 2 Mile, the Golden Tornados took the lead behind freshman Ralph Dupervil, who won the 110m hurdles in 16.6 seconds in another sweep.

Highlander senior Lyndon Kaba helped his team regain the lead, winning the 100m Dash in 11.0 seconds – just 0.1 seconds ahead of two Golden Tornados – then anchoring a dominating 4x100m Relay victory. Kaba also won the shot put, throwing 37-11 on the last throw of the event.

Between Kaba’s victories, Marcelo Brociner won the 800m in 53.2 seconds. Somerville’s boys won nine of 16 events.

“He’s done very well,” Somerville boys coach Dave Dickerson said of Brociner. “I knew he had a good shot to win that.”

Malden senior Yusuf Mohamed and sophomore David Kibazo finished 1-3 in the Mile, jump-starting another comeback. Richard Morro then won the 200m Run in 22.9 seconds, kicking off another sweep.

With 1-3 finishes in the triple and long jump, Malden clinched the boys’ meet well ahead of the final Mile Relay, making it unnecessary.

“It was really close going into the Mile,” Londino said. “Mile went well, and then we swept the 200. I mean, all three guys ran state-qualifying times. So, really solid performance.”

Sophomore Andre Rolim won both the 800m and 400m Hurdles for the Highlanders, finishing in 60.9 seconds 1:59.4, respectively.

“He had a tough time in the hurdles today because a kid ran in his lane ahead of him,” Dickerson said. “So he ran behind him for half the lap, and then he ended up running around him.”

Somerville’s girls, meanwhile, started fast, with senior Michel-le Meranda winning the 400m Hurdles in 1:31.1, followed by Pristine Mei winning the 2 Mile in 13:51. Senior teammate Maggie Langwig took second in the 2 Mile.

Meranda also led a Somerville sweep in the 200m, finishing in 27.1 seconds, and took second in the high jump behind Somerville sophomore Melissa Baptista, who won by jumping 4-4.

“It was a good win for the girls,” said Somerville coach Charles O’Rourke. “We’re starting to fill in some holes we had and get some experience.”

Malden’s girls won just three races, and none until after Somerville had built an insurmountable lead. Sophomore Jacqueline Bowey won the 800m in 2:34.7, setting up the girls’ only sweep, then Sophomore Regina Exume won the 400m in 1:10.4.

Junior Lauren Benoit later won the Mile in 5:55.7. Haley DeFilippis completed the 1-2 Malden finish.

The Highlander boys and girls won all three throwing events (shot put, javelin, discus) Wednesday. The boys went 1-2 in the shot put, the girls 1-2 in the javelin.

Sophomore Steve Lamisere won the discus, throwing 89-9, and took second in the shot put behind Kaba. Sophomore Phoenix Huertas won the javelin with a 126-5 throw, also winning the high jump by clearing 5-8.

“They can compete with anybody,” Dickerson said. “Early, the first meet, there were so many holes in events. Today, our discus threw better than they’ve thrown all year.”

For the girls, seniors Nicole Genard and Lorenza Etienne went 1-2 in the javelin, throwing 120-9 and 88-7, respectively. Highlander senior Natalie David won both the shot put and the discus.

“We’ve been working on getting a better foundation base, using your legs more,” said Highlander throwing coach Carl Stauffer. “A couple [Highlanders] said emphasizing it helped them out today. So at least they’re listening to me.”

Genard also won the 100m Hurdles, while Etienne won the triple jump. The Highlander girls swept the long jump.

“She could probably qualify in the state meet in every event except for the Mile and the 2 Mile,” O’Rourke said of Genard.

Both the Somerville and Malden boys’ teams are now 2-1, all in the Greater Boston League. Somerville's girls improved to 3-0, while Malden’s fell to 2-1.

Fontbonne Academy student wins statewide free throw tournament

April 13, 2012 10:00 AM

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A Milton sophomore is the new Massachusetts girls state free throw champion after winning a contest Sunday at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Rebecca Olivieri, a member of the Fontbonne Academy varsity basketball team, was entered into the state-wide Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Free Throw Contest by her coach Clare Murphy.

According to a news release, Olivieri regularly wins “10-in a row” free throw contests with her teammates and holds a school record of 59 free throws in a row.

“Rebecca is an intuitive player on the court and her free throw shooting is very dependable,” Murphy said in a statement. “I am really proud of her. This tops off a great season for her.”

Sunday’s competition was sponsored by the Massachusetts Basketball Coaches’ Association and first consisted of four regional contests. In order to compete in the state tournament, each player had to have a season shooting percentage of 80 percent or higher.

In her division, Olivieri shot 22 out of 25 free throws - enough to advance her to the state finals.

The competition took place before the Celtics game Easter Sunday and Olivieri along with three others regional champions each took five shots in a row. She made three out of the five, the most of any of the competitors.

“It was so much harder to concentrate because right behind the basket was the crowd, and it was so distracting,” Olivieri said.

At halftime, the girls were called to the court and Olivieri was announced the winner and awarded a plaque.

“It was really exciting to be there, to be on the Jumbotron, and such an honor to receive the award,” she said.

Natalie Feulner can be reached at natalie.feulner@gmail.com.


Scituate and Reading girls basketball teams gear up for the Garden

March 13, 2012 04:10 PM

When the Scituate and Reading girls’ basketball teams began the season, the players set small goals for themselves, but with the ultimate goal of the state championship. On Tuesday night, they will have the chance to get one step closer to that goal, but not before they fulfill their dream of playing at TD Garden.

After winning the South Division 2 sectionals against Natick Saturday, 55-38, Scituate is headed to the Garden for the state Division 2 semifinal against Reading Memorial High School, which won the North Division 2 final against Arlington Catholic, 49-46.

“It’s always been my dream to play at the Garden ever since I started playing,” Scituate junior guard Kelly Martin said. “It’s always been our [team’s] dream to play state.”

Reading also dreamed of gracing the same court as the Boston Celtics. "Playing there has been a goal of the program for a while," Reading coach Kim Penney said. "It's a big event for the history of the school and the program, and we're very excited."

The players and their coaches feel nervous, but mostly excited, to play at the iconic venue. “It’s a great opportunity for the girls,” Coach Brian Buckley said. “But we’re not going to let the arena take away from our game plan of staying level-headed.”

That level-headedness and good relationships between the players has taken the Lady Sailors into an undefeated (24-0) season. Scituate senior forward Megan Otto attributes her team’s success to their chemistry.

“We know our strengths and we always stay positive,” she said. “Overall, I think we have the whole package.”

Tuesday's game matches up two undefeated teams, with Reading coming in with a 23-0 record.

Both teams also share the experience of bitter losses at the end of last season. Scituate overcame a big deficit late in the South Division 2 finals before losing in the final seconds to Hopkinton.

Reading, meanwhile, earned the top seed in the Division 2 North bracket last season at 19-1, but lost to Gloucester in the semifinals.

Both coaches are not concerned with their perfect season records going into the tournament.

"We don't focus on not having a loss this season," Penney said. "It's not something we hang our hats on, and we take it one game at a time."

But both teams are expecting a well-played game from their players.

“We are going to play this game like we would any other,” Buckley said. “We are going to throw the records out the window and expect a hard-fought battle.”

Both Martin and Otto plan on sticking to their game. “We have to play just like we would if we were playing at Scituate,” Otto said.

Scituate's coaches assured the players this week that the Garden court has the same dimensions as their high school gym nestled in the South Shore, Martin said. It just holds roughly 20,000 more people.

“I’m most looking forward to playing at the Garden,” Otto said. “Not a lot of people can say they played at the Garden with an undefeated season their senior year.”

Penney also knows what a once-in-a-lifetime honor it is to play at the Garden.

"I'm proud of the girls to get this far," she said. "But it's not over. There is one more game for the taking."

Whoever wins Tuesday game will play on Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester against Tyngsboro or Palmer for the state championship.

“We are glad we have the opportunity to continue to play,” Buckley said. “We love to play basketball, and we hope to be the last team standing.”

Tip-off is Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Medford High School Headmaster to retire in July

March 12, 2012 04:40 PM

Medford High School Headmaster Dr. Paul H. Krueger will retire when his contract ends in July, after 14 years in charge of the school,  he told teachers and staff Monday.

"Being headmaster of Medford High School has been the greatest honor of my career," Krueger wrote in a letter he delivered about 10 a.m. to Superintendent Roy Belson, a copy of which was provided by the school department. 

"I will miss working with an exceptional faculty, administration and staff, I will always be appreciative of the support of parents who have entrusted me with the care of their children, and I will long cherish so many fond memories of my association with the 5,000 students to whom I have been not only a demanding headmaster but also a counselor and friend."

Krueger's decision ends a 38-year career in education, and marks the third principal in the Medford school district to announce their departure this year. Joan Yaeger of Columbus Elementary and Michael Simon of Brooks Elementary will also leave at the end of the school year.

Belson said he plans to work next week with the School Committee to start the search process for a new headmaster. Krueger's contract expires at the end of July, giving the committee more than four months to field a candidate pool, he said.

"With accreditation facing us, we'll probably be looking for someone more permanent," Belson said, noting that both of Krueger's predecessors remained in the job for more than a decade. 

"We'll need someone to take care of things long-term," he said.

The decision comes ahead of re-accrediation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges slated for fall 2013. Belson said most of the administrative work has been completed for the process, a fact Krueger cited in his letter.

"I have complete confidence in the chairs and members of the steering committee and in the chairs of the standard committees," Krueger wrote.  "Of all of the challenges
awaiting the new headmaster, the re-accreditation of Medford High School will be among the simplest."

Belson said he's been superintendent since Krueger was hired in 1998, and has developed a strong working relationship with him.

"He and I work well together. He's a committed educator and an independent voice," Belson said. "He's not afraid to speak his mind about issues he feel strongly about. We don't always agree on everything, but who does?"

Krueger was at the center of a heated debate last summer when he at first chose not to rehire boy soccer coach Mike Petrides, but later reversed his decision after protests from players and the community, the Globe reported. 

"Sometimes there are things more important than being right," Krueger said at a press conference at the time. "I have chosen to hold as priorities the cohesiveness and overall long-term interest of Medford High School and of the Medford community."

Masconomet beats Somerville in girls' basketball playoffs

March 2, 2012 01:20 PM

Masconomet senior Brooke Stewart scored a game-high 24 points with 10 rebounds, and the Chieftains shot better than 50 percent to beat the visiting Somerville Highlanders, 80-41, in Thursday’s opening round of the MIAA girls’ basketball playoffs. Senior teammate Danielle Davis scored 19, while Somerville’s Indira Evora and Melissa Baptista each scored 12.

The Chieftains’ prolific and accurate shooting set a pace early in the game that the Highlanders just couldn’t match. Already down 9-3, Highlander Maria Koutsoubaris grabbed an early offensive rebound and scored it, but the Chieftains responded with a 12-0 run that ended in a 21-5 lead.

“We came out of the gate really shooting the ball well tonight,” said Masconomet coach Bob Romeo. “Seemed like we hit everything we threw up in the first half.”

Falling behind 27-12 after the first quarter, the Highlanders couldn’t get closer than 11 points. Evora began the second with a steal and a layup, then hit a runner following a basket from Koutsoubaris to make it 29-18, but the Chieftains scored the next eight, highlighted by a long pass from senior Julia Simonetti to Stewart for a layup at 35-18 lead.

The Highlanders had no answer for Stewart, who next year will play for the College of William and Mary. She paced the Chieftains, scoring in all four quarters from just about everywhere on the court.

“You got to see a little bit of everything tonight,” Romeo said. “She can go to the basket, she can pull up, she can stick threes. She can pretty much score anyplace.”

To the Highlanders’ credit, they never caved beneath the Chieftains’ ever-increasing lead. They ran on every play, boxed out on rebounds and did their best to execute the strategies that helped them tie for a Greater Boston League title this season.

“Our kids try hard,” Somerville coach John DePasquale said. “Our kids want to do well. So yes, the effort was there. I have zero complaint with how much they were trying.”

Though DePasquale added that he wished the defense had played smarter on the ball, the Highlanders allowed the same or fewer points in every subsequent quarter. After allowing 27 in the first, they allowed 20 in the second and third, then just 13 in the fourth.

And though the Chieftains were taller and lengthier across the board, the Highlanders recorded just four fewer total rebounds, and they tied the Chieftains with 12 offensive boards. Baptista and senior Lorenza Etienne each grabbed eight total, with six of Baptista’s coming on the offensive end.

Baptista’s offensive boards played a big role in her 10 second-half points. She gave the Highlanders their best threat inside, often stepping around defenders in the paint for layups. She even grabbed and scored a rebound off her own missed shot a few times.

“For a team that didn’t have a size advantage on us, they got a lot off offensive rebounds, a lot of second chances that against other teams would definitely have hurt us more,” Romeo said. “They didn’t finish some of those put backs, [for] which we were fortunate.”

Three Somerville seniors have now finished their high school basketball careers: Etienne, Koutsoubaris (seven points, five rebounds) and Ashley Auciello (five points, including a three-pointer).

“Ashley and Maria and Lorenza, they play with a lot of heart,” DePasquale said. “They try to be leaders for us.”

“Their attitudes were outstanding from first day to last day, all the way through. There wasn’t one day when any of those three gave me a problem. Not one day.”

The loss also marked the end of DePasquale’s first year with the Highlanders. He said his goals for the self-described “rebuilding season” were to bring “stability” and support.

“They needed to know that they were going to be treated respectfully,” DePasquale said. “They were going to be pushed, but treated respectfully. We did that, and our players responded. Attitudes, for the most part, great. Work ethic, good.”

DePasquale also said that the “magnificently talented” Masconomet squad, which featured seven seniors with excellent chemistry and experience, could be a model for his still-young squad.

“Masco is exactly what Somerville is trying to get back to,” he said.

With the loss, the Highlanders finished their season 10-11. The Chieftains went 17-3 in the regular season and will play the Woburn Tanners on Sunday.

Boston Scholar Athletes program honors 2011 Boston All-City Football Team

March 1, 2012 02:00 PM

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(Boston Scholar Athletes)

Members of the 2011 All-City Football team, with "Coach of the Year" John Parziale of East Boston High School.

The following is a press release from the nonprofit Boston Scholar Athletes program, which aims to increase opportunities for the city’s public schools students to achieve academic success through athletics:

Boston began a new citywide tradition on Thursday, February 16, as the Boston Scholar Athletes program (BSA) hosted a reception for the city’s first-ever All City Football Team at the Boston Marriott Copley Place. Boston Public School (BPS) student-athletes were joined by their parents and coaches, as well as BPS headmasters, athletic department staff and cheerleaders at the event, where Coach of the Year and Player of the Year trophies were presented.

“Our student-athletes work hard to achieve excellence both in the classroom and on the field, and I am proud to have the opportunity to celebrate them,” stated John Fish, CEO of Suffolk Construction, a key partner, along with the City of Boston and the Boston Public Schools, of the BSA. “The members of the 2011 Boston All-City Football Team have demonstrated exceptional skill and commitment to the game. They’ve played great football!”

Players for the 2011 team were selected by a panel of Boston Public School head football coaches. At the event, John Parziale of East Boston High School received recognition for being Coach of the Year.

Of the players, Leon Parnell of East Boston High School was the evening’s stand out, receiving both the Player of the Year and Academic Excellence awards. James Toles of South Boston High School received the other Player of the Year award, while Demetrius Richards of the J. E. Burke School won the Most Improved award for dedicating his time, energy, and effort to improving his academic performance. The Determination Award, presented to a Scholar-Athlete who has viewed all challenges as opportunities, maintained a positive attitude when overcoming obstacles, and encouraged his teammates never to give up, was presented to Brian Goff of Boston Latin Academy.

This event is just the latest in a series of boosts the Boston Public Schools have received from the BSA, which gives kids the confidence, skills and support they need to excel both in school and on the field. By creating Boston’s first-ever All-City Football Team, the BPS and BSA are continuing to raise the profile of BPS sports teams, giving the players well-deserved recognition for their athletic performance and the commitment to academic achievement that has allowed them to remain eligible to play.

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O'Neil nets 500th career win at Salem State

February 21, 2012 11:27 PM
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Photo courtesy of Salem State

Salem State coach Bill O'Neil celebrates after his 500th win with, from the left, Giancarlo Capodanno, Ryan Sutliffe, assistant coach Andrew O’Neill, Dan Smolinsky, and Chris Costigan.

As most high school and college athletic traditionally teams do during the final home game of the season, Salem State University’ s men’s ice hockey team celebrated Senior Night last night at Richard A. Rockett Ice Arena.

 But the team also recognized another accomplishment during a special ceremony before the 7-2 victory against Worcester State: Head coach Bill O’Neill’s 500th victory. O’Neil’s 500th victory came on Saturday afternoon after Salem State defeated the Rams of Framingham State 8-2 at Rockett Arena.

“Tonight will be an emotional night in a lot of ways,” O’Neil said during a telephone interview before the game yesterday. “It’s our last regular season home game, the seniors will be honored tonight. It’s going to be Think Pink tonight [for breast cancer awareness] so it will be emotional on the team and in the building with that.

“And with this ceremony before the game there will be a lot of emotion. It will be welcomed. It will be something that will mean a lot to me and the players and our fans and ultimately we’ll play and we’re looking forward to that.”

The Danvers native who started coaching the team in 1981 when he was 25-years-old is now the fifth active coach, and just the seventh all-time in NCAA Division III history to reach 500 wins. O'Neill, who during his 31 season as head coach of the Vikings has led Salem State to two NCAA Final Four appearances, has compiled an overall record of 501-310-54.

This season Salem State is 14-8-3 overall and is headed to the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference playoffs. O’Neil, who played for St. John’s Prep and won a national championship with Boston University in 1978, was stuck on 499 career wins for two games as the Vikings lost two contest in a row by one goal before finally getting back in the W column on Saturday.

“I’m glad it’s over,” O’Neil said. “Again, we’re just trying to continue and move forward like any team would. We had a couple of shots at it we missed at Salem and the past Thursday night we missed at West field State; two crucial games that really had a lot of meaning in our playoff position. “You win, you lose and you move on to next one and do the best can."

Saturday’s win also secured second place in their league standings.

“I’m just proud and honored to be coaching at Salem State University,” O’Neil said. “It’s a privilege to coach so many young men over the years, including my son Andrew who is my assistant coach this year and my brother John who played for me earlier in the 80s.”

Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.

New Mission’s Tianna Johnson helps Titans take down Somerville Highlanders

February 18, 2012 07:34 AM

New Mission senior Tianna Johnson scored 25 points and recorded eight steals, helping the Titans beat the Somerville Highlanders 52-46 Friday night at the SHS Field House. Junior Indira Evora led the Highlanders with 23 points.

The Highlanders appeared in control of the game by the second quarter, building a 20-11 lead through Evora’s speed and Maria Koutsoubaris’ and Melissa Baptista’s strength inside. But the Titans responded with a 7-2 run, highlighted by one of three three-pointers from sophomore guard Jazala Laracuente.

A three-pointer from Evora – the Highlanders’ only bucket from beyond the arch Friday – gave the Highlanders a 29-24 lead entering the second half, but Laracuente and Johnson kept on taking and making shots, eventually tying the game 33-33 on another three-pointer from Laracuente.

“Everybody knows she can shoot,” said New Mission boys’ basketball coach Cory McCarthy, who split coaching duties Friday with girls’ assistant coach Ann-Marie Clark-Borden. “So once she starts moving, she shifts the defense.”

No longer playing from behind, New Mission started pressuring Somerville immediately off the inbound pass, trapping them deep and slowing Somerville’s offense to a crawl. The strategy produced immediate results, as Johnson picked off a pass and got to the foul line, hitting one of two to go up 34-33.

The New Mission defense overall forced 11 turnovers, grabbed 11 steals and blocked five shots. Stronger second-half rebounding from Edna Cristo-Johnson and Tshani Williams-Core also kept Koutsoubaris and Baptista from dominating inside as they did in the first half.

“Our guards did not go to the ball, and our rebounders threw it to someone who was not open,” Somerville coach John DePasquale said. “That was the theme of the game tonight.”

Evora and Johnson traded layups midway through the third before the Titans went up for good when Johnson stole another pass, then took off for the basket and a 38-36 lead.

Evora repeatedly got the Highlanders within one possession of tying the game or taking the lead, but that possession never came. Down 40-36 in the fourth, Evora hit one of two free throws, then stole an inbound pass and scored to cut the deficit to one.

The Titans extended their lead back to three when sophomore Deandra Humpries found Cristo-Johnson for the bucket. They pushed their lead to 46-40 on an offensive rebound and layup from Johnson, then to 48-42, again because of Johnson.

“There’s nobody who has better ball-handling than her,” McCarthy said.

Evora again got the Highlanders to within four on a layup, then picked off a pass on the Titans’ side of the court. A strong pass from sophomore Ella Tyler to Koutsoubaris cut the deficit to 48-46.

The Highlanders had two chances to tie the game in the final minute, but Johnson’s length and quick wits ultimately prevailed. She picked off two passes just outside the Highlanders’ arch, going 2-for-3 at the line to put the game away.

“Our kids do not see the defender,” DePasquale said. “All they see is their white-shirt teammates, and they throw it without regard to what the defender is doing. And that’s a problem.”

New Mission started the game strong, scoring the first four points and holding that lead until Evora beat the Titans on a full-court sprint to cut the deficit to 6-5. She then stole a pass later on and raced unimpeded to the basket to make it 8-7.

Following a Laracuente three-pointer, Evora found Koutsoubaris under the basket for a layup. Koutsoubaris and Baptista then tag-teamed two consecutive possessions, with each finding the other down low for layups that tied the game 11-11 and gave the Highlanders’ their first lead.

Baptista finished the first quarter in style, picking off an inbounds pass with two seconds left and just beating the buzzer for the 15-11 lead.

Baptista finished with a double-double, scoring 12 and grabbing 11 rebounds. Laracuente finished with 13 points for the Titans.

Having already clinched a playoff spot, DePasquale said the Highlanders would focus upcoming practices on reading the defense and making free throws. The Highlanders went 11-for-22 at the foul line.

“If we shoot 75 percent, we win the game,” DePsquale said.

With the win, the Titans improved to 15-5. The Highlanders fell to 9-10.

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