Paper Tiger: Tournament looms for boys', girls' basketball

The Newtonite

[media-credit name=”Jacob Schwartz” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]

Senior Luke Westman and the rest of boys’ basketball host Marshfield tomorrow in the first round of the State Tournament.

Paper Tiger is a weekly column focusing on this school’s athletics.
by Kristian Lundberg
I’m not gonna lie: I’m seriously impressed with myself that I managed to go four weeks without writing about either the boys’ or girls’ basketball team.
Okay, fine, I slipped up once with the Korey Mui column. Still, in my defense, I tried to make an effort to cover other sports and other stories, which, in fairness, also deserve their day in print.
However, with opening-round home games in the State Tournament upcoming this week for both squads, their combined successes have become too tough to ignore. So, my apologies if you’re tired of hearing about how great our basketball teams are, but I guess one more time can’t hurt.
In the event that you’ve been living in a nuclear fallout shelter and/or that you’ve retired from the sporting world following the Patriots’ Super Bowl debacle, here’s a crash course on how both the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams have lit up their Bay State competition.

So far this season, girls’ basketball has been nothing short of a revelation, compiling a 14-6 record in what was originally assumed to be a rebuilding year. Following the departure of former coach Hank DeSantis, first-year coach Linda Martindale reconstructed the program based on a team-first mindset, which enabled it to recover from having graduated four starters last year.

Of the 11 players Martindale kept on varsity, only three are seniors, and of those only the two captains, Kayla Farina and Gracie Rolfe, had previous experience on varsity. To compensate for their inexperience, the Tigers employed a relentless full-court press and a deep bench, holding all but two of their opponents to under 50 points per game over the course of the season. After a few early-season stumbles put the squad at 2-3, the Tigers won 12 out of their final 15 and enter the postseason on a four-game winning streak.

For their effort, the Tigers earned the eighth seed in the Division I South section of the State Tournament, a vast improvement on last year’s disappointing result, in which they finished as the 17th seed and were forced to travel to Plymouth South for an extra preliminary-round contest.

But that was then, this is now. For the first time in the new building, the Tigers will enjoy the luxury of playing their first-round game at home when they face Stoughton tonight at 7 p.m.

Just as much as girls’ basketball has flown under the radar, boys’ basketball has soared above it, making mincemeat out of their opponents en route to a 17-3 finish. Like the girls’ squad, the boys had to recover from the loss of a few key players from a team that made a George Mason-esque run to the Sectional Finals last year. The Tigers had graduated two starters—Avi Adler-Cohen and Tevin Falzon—and needed to replace Aaron Falzon, last year’s freshman wunderkind, who transferred to St. Mark’s.

In addition, with the Falzon brothers’ departure came an imperative for coach Paul Connolly to radically rethink the Tigers’ playing style. The Tigers had used the Falzons, who both stood over 6 ft. 9 in., to dominate the paint, using the inside game to open up chances from outside.

Yet this year, none of the Tigers’ starters stand taller than 6 ft. 4 in., forcing them to go small and spread the court. What they lack in height, they make up for in quickness and experience. All five players on the court play interchangeable positions, allowing almost everyone to handle the ball or post up inside.

To say this strategy has worked would be an understatement akin to saying that Rob Gronkowski was slightly ineffective against the Giants. The Tigers bolted out of the gate with 14 consecutive wins, including Connolly’s 200th victory in a 63-37 drubbing of 11th-ranked Weymouth January 10.

The team climbed as high to second overall in the Boston Globe’s Top 20 before suffering their first loss in overtime to 4th-ranked Brockton. But that loss was on Super Bowl Sunday, a day that New Englanders have long since burned from memory. Excepting me, but whatever.

In short, both the boys’ and girls’ team have the potential to play deep into March, with a legitimate shot at bringing back some hardware to the athletic department (fingers crossed).

So, why do I still feel a bit uneasy?

Well, as fantastically as the boys had started out the season, the way they ended it leaves a little to be desired. The Tigers closed on a two-game losing streak after a narrow 65-63 loss at Lexington and an inexplicable embarrassment at Needham, losing 66-34 to a Rockets squad they had previously beaten by 14.

The Tigers had entered their final two contests with a 17-1 record, good enough to earn the top seed in the section, but those two losses bumped them down to fifth. Consequently, the Tigers may need to travel to North Quincy for their second-round match-up—assuming, of course, that they can handle a pesky Marshfield side in their first round game at home tomorrow at 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, girls’ basketball, by virtue of being the unfortunate eighth seed, has a road tilt looming Friday against top-seeded Franklin in the second round, if the Tigers manage to dispel Stoughton tonight. (In case you’re having a hard time following, here’s the boys’ and girls’ bracket). Especially in the playoffs, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Welcome to tournament time, folks. Every game from now on is win-or-go-home. And, while the potential for the team wearing creamsicle orange to play deep into March is tangible, so too is the possibility that the next time the Tigers step on the court, it will be their last.

We’ll see you tonight and tomorrow night at the Reggie Gym.

Hope your nerves are steady.