by Jonny Levenfeld
Boys’ basketball advanced to the South Section semifinals of the MIAA State Tournament Friday with a 46-42 road win over conference rival Needham.
Just two weeks earlier, the Tigers’ 10-game winning streak came to a halt at Needham after losing by a point in the final seconds of the game. A subsequent loss to Brookline tied the Tigers atop the Bay State Conference Carey division with Needham, and the fourth-seeded Rockets ultimately earned a higher spot in the postseason than the fifth-seeded Tigers.
Wednesday, the Tigers defeated Braintree 59-57 at home in the first round of the playoffs and the Rockets dominated Durfee in a 58-40 win.
The Tigers entered yesterday’s contest hampered by multiple injuries. Senior Ezekial Francisco, who typically starts at center, did not dress for the game due to an ongoing knee issue. Junior Brett Stanton and sophomore Nate Hollenberg both suited up and played despite lingering wrist injuries from the Braintree game.
Junior Tommy Mobley, a captain with seniors Jack Boucher and Liam Bruno, was limited by foul trouble and pesky defense throughout the game. Mobley, the back-to-back conference MVP and the team’s leading scorer, picked up his third foul with 5:08 remaining in the first half and finished with two points.
With Mobley out for a majority of the first half, Boucher led a balanced scoring attack and the Tigers went into halftime trailing by two.
Neither team was able to establish a sizable lead in the third quarter, and the final frame started with the score tied at 30. Boucher and Bruno started the fourth quarter with consecutive baskets and Boucher completed a rare four-point play to put the Tigers up 40-34 with 4:28 remaining in the game.
With just over a minute left, Needham cut the lead to 45-42 with a deep three-pointer, but Stanton sealed the game at the line, hitting a free throw with three seconds remaining.
Boucher finished with impressive numbers, putting up a team-leading 21 points on 8-11 shooting. Minutes after the game, he reflected on the non-stop intensity of playoff basketball.
“Wow, I’m still shaking,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen during the course of the game…this game was a grinder.”
With Mobley held in check on the offensive end, Boucher answered the call and scored several times down the stretch.
“In the fourth I just took my shot when it was there and it fell. I don’t think of it as carrying the offense. More of making plays when they need to be made,” Boucher said.
Boucher also praised his team’s ability to withstand “a tough Needham team” with multiple players limited by injuries.
“Despite injuries our guys stepped up. Brett inside, [junior Sam] Jefferson outside, and Nate [Hollenberg] playing with a sprained wrist. Incredible,” he said.
Stanton credited the electric atmosphere for providing him with the necessary boost to fight through his injury. “Once the crowd shuffled in, I was able to do everything I needed to,” he said. “By halftime it was killing me and I was reluctant to dribble with my left hand, but other than that I wasn’t really limited. The pain was worse after the game though once I settled down.”
Tuesday, the Tigers will get yet another shot at revenge when they take on North Quincy at 6 p.m. at UMASS Boston. The Red Raiders eliminated the Tigers from contention in the same round last year. The team, and in particular Boucher, is grateful for the opportunity to return the favor.
“We are chomping at the bit to get them again, Boucher said. “We are older, better and ready to take them down. And I can’t wait for it.”