Three area high school basketball teams stand ready to hit the court for the final time this season with a chance to win a state championship.
UMass Lowell’s Tsongas Center will be the site for this weekend’s state finals actions as the second-seeded Mansfield boys and fifth-seeded Foxboro girls both aim for MIAA Division 2 crowns while in Division 1, the No. 2 Bishop Feehan girls await their final 32 minutes on the court in their championship contest.
The Hornets are tasked with taking on the top-ranked Malden Catholic boys Friday at 5:30 p.m. Mansfield boasts the hot hand of Eddie McCoy, who emerged in the postseason as a highly efficient scorer and go-to man for a Mansfield team that has seen some adversity over the past few weeks.
Malden Catholic is making its second straight appearance in the Div. 2 state final, and has decimated teams this season, winning by single-digit margins just three times. Malden’s last two losses came in back-to-back games at the end of January, to Catholic Memorial (the top seed in Division 1) and Xaverian (the No. 12 seed in Division 1). Malden had already beaten both earlier in the season, 76-63 and 72-51, respectively.
Two losses to experienced tourney teams, one of which was the top seed, adds to a battle-tested Lancers’ resume that has beat the liked of St. Mary’s of Lynn by seven, a state finalist as the No. 2 seed in Division 3, and a three-win run over Division 2 No. 5 Charlestown, with the third coming in the Final Four.
Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan knows that Malden Catholic will be a challenging opponent, but also knows that his team is riding a wave of momentum, making them more than capable to bring home a championship.
“They’re talented and well-coached, and they play hard,” Vaughan said. “We’ll definitely have our work cut out for us. It’s probably the first game we’ve gone into in a while where we’re going to have to play well and be committed to the things we’ve done on both ends of the floor for 32 minutes. (We have) to minimize mistakes to the best of our ability, but with where we’re at, I like where we’re at. I think we’re give it a great game and we’ll be ready to go.”
Mansfield is not too far removed from its 2018 Division 1 state title, and will need to be at its best to earn another MIAA trophy. Defense will be key in slowing the pace down, allowing Mansfield time to work on the offensive end.
“We’re definitely ready to go, as long as we can mentally stay engaged and nothing terrible happens the first couple of minutes,” Vaughan said. “On our defensive end, they present some major issues. They’ve got three legit shooters. They’re good. They punish you for making mistakes. On our offensive end, they’re good and disciplined. If we can control tempo and pass up on the first available shot for a better shot later in the clock, I think we’ll be able to control tempo and keep it close.”
The Foxboro girls’ run has been biblical, and one that has set them up for a finish that could put them up there with the most successful programs in school history. The Warriors have one loss, dating back to Dec. 29, and have since blown nearly everybody they’ve played out of the gym. Three single-digit wins over Mansfield, Oliver Ames and Division 1 No. 5 Brookline have been the biggest tests for a seemingly unstoppable Warrior team that is well-rounded from one through five.
Next for the Warriors is Dracut at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The No. 6 Middies caught fire at the right time of the year, opening the season 2-3 before earning wins over Div. 1 No. 13 Chelmsford, Div. 1 No. 22 Methuen (twice), Div. 1 No. 17 Central Catholic, Div. 3 No. 10 Fontbonne, Div. 2 No. 7 Newburyport and state finalist in Division 5 No. 2 Springfield International.
The Hockomock League is one of the toughest leagues in the state, though, and a Foxboro team that typically sees no seniors in the starting lineup this team is cool under pressure and acts like they’ve been there before half a dozen times — even though this team hasn’t.
Expect the one-two punch of Cam Collins and Kailey Sullivan to get their’s while Addie Ruter, Isabelle Chamberlin and Erin Foley will take the pressure off as reliable defenders and scorers. Once they get going, they’re tough to stop, even if Dracut’s Emma Welker, Ashlee Talbot and Lamees Alasaad try maintain damage control. The Middies have size inside and force opponents into some tough shots.
“They’re similar to teams we’ve faced already this season in that they have more of a shooting forward and a big in the paint,” Foxboro head coach Lisa Downs said. “That kind of matches up well with our team in Izzy and Addie. They have some decent guards, but we do too. Our guards are able to cover some of the best guards. As long as we play smart defense and don’t reach and just force them to really be challenged and bring the ball up the court out of their comfort zone I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Dracut also has the benefit of Talbot running the floor. The Merrimack Valley’s Div. 2 Player of The Year for the second time this winter will undoubtedly be a focal point for the Warrior defense.
“She’s definitely a very good shooter,” Downs said. “She hits the deep threes along with drives to the basket. She can also drive and dish, pretty much does it all. We’re making sure we’re focused on our help defense.”
The first eight minutes will be crucial for Foxboro. Setting the tempo with its high-speed game in the first quarter is a must, and to play is relaxed and not straying away from the game plan is the message from Downs.
“That’s definitely important and we focus on that a lot,” Downs said. “Bringing the energy as soon as the ball goes up. It does set the tone the first eight minutes, because now everybody is nervous, especially in the state championship. Nerves are definitely an element they haven’t been fully accustomed to. It’s important to play relaxed but to also play our game. I’ve told them to enjoy the atmosphere the tournament brings, but in order to do that we have to be relaxed. The more we play relaxed, the more we gel.”
Bishop Feehan’s hunt for a state title is one that’s seen them get pushed, but the Shamrocks have always found a way. After getting tested by Franklin the ‘Rocks got pushed even harder by a tough defensive team in Woburn, but timely shooting in the second half helped earn a state final bid. This week for all the marbles it’s top-seeded and undefeated Andover, a state finalist from one season ago, who is in the way of the first program title since 2016.
“They’re definitely an experienced crew. They’ve been to the state championship before, lost last year, so they’ve got some experience on their side,” Bishop Feehan head coach Amy Dolores said of Andover. “(Our) kids are hungry. They’re ready to play and ready for the opportunity to compete in the state championship game.”
Similar to Foxboro, the Shamrocks girls’ bread and butter is running in transition and getting going with speed — leading to game-ending runs that put opponents in such a hole that they’re unable to dig out. But Andover is familiar with Feehan, unlike Foxboro’s situation. The Golden Warriors earned a win over Feehan in the Comcast Tournament earlier this season on Feb. 18, there may be an edge for the Golden Warriors over the Shamrocks not just in history but on the floor.
Andover rebounds well, and has a size advantage that makes its defense tough to crack. Size disadvantage is nothing Feehan hasn’t seen before, and has shown time and time again a way to find an upper hand against it. Whether it was Franklin or Woburn, the latter of whom also beat Feehan in the Comcast Tournament, the grit and will to win for the Shamrocks is undeniable and they’ve also found a time to get shots to fall from close or deep and find themselves within arm’s reach of the game if trailing.
Andover is tough, with the Golden Warriors’ size being a noticeable contrast to how Feehan looks on the floor. Anna Foley and Amelia Hanscom will be players of note for the opposition, scoring 16 and 12 points, respectively, against Feehan in their last meeting.
“They’re definitely a great team, and you can see it on the film, they’re big,” Dolores said. “They have us pretty much out-sized in almost every position of the starters. We did a good job of sticking with them last time we played about three weeks ago in a 46-42 game. They’re tough. They’re led by Anna Foley. She’s a huge defensive presence and has long arms and anticipates well. She gets in the way of a lot of interior passes.
“They have a pretty strong supporting cast with her in Amelia Hanscom. She’s a guard-forward, can do it all, has good size and can mix it up inside and out. They’ve got an experienced cast,” Dolores said.
As for blocking out the noise of a prime-time slot in an NCAA Division 1 arena, with the stakes at the highest they’ve been all season for the Shamrocks, Dolores told her players to embrace the moment and, most importantly, have fun. The Shamrocks hit the floor at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night.
“We’ve been trying to lean into the moment,” Dolores said. “Embrace the experience, use the energy of the situation to enjoy it and think of it an opportunity to play in front of a crowd where people care about what we’re doing,” Dolores said. “To be able to go out and represent your school that has so much tradition and so many people who care, it’s really a special experience.
“Instead of saying block out the crowd, lean into the crowd, look around and enjoy the moment. They’re there to see you. Have fun.”