SHARON, Mass. — A year ago, Sharon’s Matt Baur was the leading scorer for the Davenport division champion Eagles.
One season later, Baur’s role has changed. The emergence of juniors Jacob McLoughlin and Nate Katznelson paired with the addition of senior Dante James saw Baur finish fourth on the team in scoring during the regular season.
But make no mistake about it, just because the Eagles haven’t needed Baur to score as much certainly doesn’t mean he isn’t capable.
The senior captain poured in a career-high 28 points, including 20 in the first half, to lead the third-seeded Eagles to a big 75-59 win over #19 Burlington in an MIAA Division 2 Round of 16 matchup.
“It really speaks to the human being that Matt Baur is,” said Sharon head coach Andrew Ferguson. “After missing those first couple of games, he realized he doesn’t have to come in and score 20 points a game like we needed him to last year. He committed to being one of the best defensive players in the league and we think he did it. He took [Cedric Rodriguez] and really took him out of the game, held him to 13 points and he’s averaging over 20. That was Matt’s task tonight and then he adds the offense on top of it. Our team has a lot of talent on it and he’s been a consummate leader for us.”
A HockomockSports First Team selection last year, Baur has always led by example with his defense and willingness to sacrifice his body. Despite only scoring over 20 points twice this season, he earned all-league honors because of all of his intangibles. On Tuesday night, his offensive prowess was on display.
Baur wasted little time heating up from the floor as he hit 5-of-8 attempts from the floor in the opening quarter, scoring 11 points to help the Eagles establish an early double-digit lead at 18-8.
It didn’t stop there as he took a feed from Ryan Brown to open the scoring in the second quarter, and then a pass from Sam Letendre for another bucket. After making his third field goal of the second quarter — and eighth of the game already — he drew an offensive foul on the other end to get Sharon the ball back.
“We have a lot of offensive threats on this team, and I knew that coming into the season,” Baur said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win. If that means taking a back seat with scoring, I’ll do it. I’m still confident and tonight I was hot so I kept rolling with it.”
Baur came up with a steal and found James (seven points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals) with a sweet behind the back pass for a traditional three-point play as Sharon’s lead ballooned up to 13 (29-16) midway through the second quarter. Baur added a triple, set up Katznelson (15 points, four rebounds) for one of his two threes in the game, and a late three from TTyler Goodman gave Sharon a 38-26 lead at halftime.
After a strong first half, the Eagles faced a stiffer test in the second as the Red Devils came out of the break with renewed energy. A press seemed to give Burlington some life while taking away Sharon’s rhythm. A 9-2 surge over the first four minutes saw the lead cut down the five, and the Red Devils even had a three-point attempt in the air that would have cut it down to two, but it was off the mark.
Sharon came down the other end and drained a key three by — guess who — Baur, taking a handoff from McLoughlin (15 points, five assists, four rebounds, three steals) and draining a tough three.
During that run, Ferguson elected to let his team play instead of calling a timeout to try and stunt Burlington’s momentum.
“We’ve had the experience of being in similar situations, we had it against Mansfield,” Ferguson said, “I don’t call a ton of timeouts, even if my assistants are wanting me to, I want my guys to figure it out. We have three seniors and four juniors really out there and we have to trust those guys, and they reward that trust more often than not.”
After another Burlington, Brown dropped in a perfectly weighted pass over the top to Katznelson for two, and nearly as quick as it was gone, Sharon’s double-digit lead was restored.
Nothing comes easy in the postseason and the Red Devils proved that as they responded with five straight, and once again the deficit was down to five. McLoughlin got into the lane for a floater, and senior Jack Bates found Baur for two more, handing Sharon a 49-42 lead.
Sharon slammed the door shut in the fourth quarter as its seven-point advantage quickly doubled just 60 seconds into the final frame. Bates hit a tough layup, James linked up with Katznelson for three, and McLoughlin got by his defender for two at the rim.
And just 30 seconds later, Bates found James for two and Sharon had its largest lead of the game to that point, 58-44, with 6:32 to play.
Burlington inched closer to get it back to 11, but Baur answered with his fourth triple of the contest.
“We’ve been in tough situations like this all season,” Baur said. “Teams are going to going to make runs, we know that. One of our focuses coming into the season was mental toughness and facing adversity and we were able to execute that tonight. It’s a game of runs so we shouldn’t be afraid of that.
“All of the hard work we’ve been putting in the last two years, it’s really hard to put it into words and describe this to see it all paying off.”
Sharon boys basketball advances to the Elite 8 to take on #6 Nashoba, who edged North Quincy 56-53 on Tuesday night. The Eagles and the Wolves are scheduled to tip off at 6:00 on Friday in Sharon.