After a decade of patrolling the sidelines as an assistant coach for two local programs, Dave DeStefano is getting his turn in the spotlight.
King Philip athletic director Gary Brown announced the hiring of DeStefano as the new boys basketball coach on Friday afternoon. DeStefano is the Warriors’ fifth head coach since the start of the 2011-2012 season.
“I’m really excited for this opportunity,” DeStefano told HockomockSports.com. “I’d like to thank Gary Brown and Dr. Lisa Mobley, I’m very appreciative and look forward to working with them. I look at this as a fresh start for everyone in the program. All the players, they are going to have to earn everything. There’s going to be constant competition for each spot and for playing time. I’m really excited to put a product out there that the KP community will be exited about, both on and off the court.”
DeStefano spent the last three seasons as the JV coach at Hockomock rival Foxboro High. Prior to that, he spent seven seasons as an assistant coach for Bishop Feehan. During that stretch, the Shamrocks won four Eastern Athletic Conference titles as well as the 2015 D2 South Sectional championship.
“I am extremely proud to announce David DeStefano as the new coach of the King Philip Boys Basketball program,” Brown said in a statement. “David brings passion, enthusiasm, and a wealth of knowledge as the new leader of this program. He impressed our search committee and administration with a personal coaching philosophy that is an excellent match with the core values here at KP.”
King Philip is coming off a season in which it went 4-16, losing six of those games by six points or less, including an overtime loss (74-71) to eventual D2 State Champion Tech Boston. King Philip graduated five players from last year’s squad.
“I plan on working really closely with the youth program and try to build up from there,” DeStefano said. “I don’t want to be just the varsity coach, I want to build the program as a whole and that starts with the youth programs. I want to build a culture of success with the high school program that a lot of other programs have at KP. And we’re going to build it through confidence and unselfish attitudes.”
WORCESTER, Mass. – In the bottom of the fourth inning, Wachusett started to hit the ball hard, scoring a run on back-to-back doubles and cutting into the Taunton lead. Although the Tigers still led by three runs, momentum appeared to be shifting to the Central champs and Taunton went to the plate looking for an instant response to take back control.
With one run home, the Tigers had the bases loaded with two outs and up stepped junior Alexa White. Wachusett starter Courtney Lanpher got two strikes on Taunton’s second baseman, but then White turned on a pitch, lifting it to deep left. The Taunton bench was almost holding its breath watching the ball sail towards the fence and almost exploded when the ball cleared it.
White’s grand slam broke Saturday night’s Div. 1 state championship game wide open, lifting Taunton (26-2) to a convincing 13-2 win over the Mountaineers and ending an 11-year wait for the program’s fifth state title.
“It’s almost surreal,” said Taunton coach Dave Lewry, who earned his fourth title as coach of the Tigers. “I began to question whether I was ever going to get another one, you know? It just hasn’t sunk in yet, but these kids deserve it. The whole team just worked so hard for it.
“I’m just so proud of them all. They’ve had a great, great season.”
Throughout the playoffs, as a team, the Tigers have talked about trying to win this title for the senior class, which before this year had gotten as far as the South sectional final four years ago. On Saturday, they fulfilled that mission.
“They worked so hard all these years and for us to finally have a chance for it, we really wanted them to have it,” said freshman Hanna Aldrich.
The Tigers jumped in front in the first. Junior Jaime Brown (2-for-3) lined a single to center, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Liana Duarte (3-for-4), and then scored on a single by Kya Enos (2-for-4). All three played on the Taunton team that reached the South final in 2015.
In the third, Taunton got some breathing room. Brown drew a one-out walk and stole second. With two outs, Enos drew a walk and Mackenzie Handrahan knocked a single through the left side of the infield. Brown was able to slide in ahead of the tag. Aldrich (2-for-4) followed with a single of her own, which scored Enos and Handrahan for a 4-0 lead.
Wachusett got its first base runner off Kelsey White with two outs in the fourth. Ellie Moore doubled to left center and then Reagan Lowe bounced one off the fence in center to drive her in. Paige Arvidson smashed a line drive right back at White, who snared it to end the inning.
The energy was suddenly much higher from the Wachusett fans and the Mountaineers looked rejuvenated. That lasted only a few hitters.
Duarte started the rally with a one-out single. Enos reached on an error and Handrahan on a fielder’s choice after another error trying to get the lead runner. Aldrich drove in her third run of the game with a bouncer over the pitcher that left the shortstop in no man’s land.
“We kept talking about that,” said Lewry about Taunton trying to stem any momentum from Wachusett. “They made it 4-1 and I said let’s get that four-run lead back and they came right back and got it for me. You just like to keep putting the pressure on.”
After Lanpher got Kelsey White to pop up to the catcher for the second out, the Mountaineers looked like they may just escape the inning having only allowed a single run, but Alexa White stepped in to give her sister, and the team, a lift. The grand slam made it 9-1 and had the Tigers cruising.
“I already had two strikes on me,” Alexa White said, “and I was just expecting the middle pitch and I took it and it was the best feeling I’ve ever experienced. It’s something I’ll never forget. I’m so happy I could rally the team up one last time.”
Emily Todorov started the bottom half of the inning with a solo shot to left, but then Alexa White flashed the leather at second to record the next three outs. Twice she made plays to her left, cutting down grounders in the hole between first and second and then, after a Wachusett single, she tracked one down up the middle and had the presence of mind to tag the base for the force.
“My adrenaline was up and I was like, ‘I’ve got to go every which way to get this ball,’ said White about her play in the field. She moved from the outfield to second base after an injury to starter McKenzie McAloon right before the tournament and it was an adjustment at first. She explained, “Obviously, it was a big surprise to put me there because of an unfortunate injury but I knew I had to step up there and help out the infield.”
Any hope that Wachusett had of a comeback was dashed in the sixth. Taunton continued to stretch the lead and the top of the order continued to come through with big hits. Brown started it with a double to center and Duarte followed by lining a double over the left fielder’s head. She would come around to score again on an Enos single to left and it was 11-2.
In the seventh, Taunton brought players off the bench to give them a taste of the final and extended the lead further.
Freshman Tayah DaCosta, who was pulled up from JV for the postseason, lined a single in her first at-bat of the playoffs. Abbie McDonough, who played right field, followed with a double to put two in scoring position. Hailee Hartung drove in one with a groundout to second and Duarte beat out an infield single to drive in another.
With a strong defense behind her, Kelsey White closed out the game with a clean seventh inning. The freshman allowed only five hits from the Mountaineers and continued a strong tournament run that saw her allow no more than two runs in any of Taunton’s six playoff games.
“She’s really composed,” said Enos about White. “You’ll never see her upset, she’s always within herself. I’m so proud of her. She’s pitched every game of the tournament by herself. It’s emotionally, physically, and mentally tiring and she did it.”
Lewry added, “She’s been amazing all year. She’s a freshman but she pitches like a senior. What a career she’s got in front of her still and she’s already got a state championship.”
With two outs, the ball was hit on the ground to Brown at third and she, as she has done countless times before, fired a strike to first base. Unlike all those other times, this one was for a state championship and to complete a mission that the Tigers had set out on at the start of the season.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Aldrich gushed. “Nothing has ever felt like this before.”
“I’m surprised I’m not crying because I’m so happy,” Alexa White said. “I’m just in shock because this is so incredible and I’m so happy for the seniors and…there are no words, literally no words.
“They are the nucleus of the team,” Lewry said. “What a great combination of seniors. I never had to use the word ‘senioritis’ this season. Usually, we have to talk about it with them being out of school at the end of the season. But we never had to mention it all year and that’s a tremendous credit to those three.
“These kids deserve it. I’m so happy for Kya, Liana, and Mack.”
The three seniors weren’t just strong leaders off the field, they led by example on the diamond as well. Each Duarte (3-for-4), Enos (2-for-4), and Handrahan recorded a hit, drove in at least one run, and scored at least once in the Tigers’ big win.
“Honestly, this team, there is something special about it,” said Enos, who has spent five years on the squad after making the roster in eighth grade. “We’ve worked hard and we’ve just never had chemistry like this. I’m close with every single one of these girls and I believe in every single one of them. I’m exceptionally proud of every one of them.”
It didn’t take long for Taunton to take a lead with Enos responsible for giving the visitors a lead in the first inning. After a leadoff single from Jaime Brown, the junior moved to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt from Duarte. That brought up Enos, who slapped a base hit up the middle into the outfield to bring Brown home for a quick 1-0 advantage.
Just two innings later, the top of the order helped Taunton increase its lead. Both Brown and Enos walked before Handrahan drilled a hard grounder up the third base line, bringing a run home. Enos and Handrahan came home to score on a single from freshman Hanna Aldrich to make it 4-0 in favor of Taunton.
“They worked so hard all these years and for us to finally have a chance for it, we really wanted them to have it,” Aldrich said of the seniors.
“It’s crazy, it’s an amazing feeling,” Handrahan said. “I’m so happy to do it with my best friends, my seniors. And everyone as a whole, it’s an honor to be on this team, I love everyone so much.”
The three seniors, who combined for half of Taunton’s 12 hits and were responsible for driving in five runs and scoring five runs, were the catalysts of the Tigers’ biggest inning — the fifth inning.
Duarte got things going with a one-out single, Enos reached on an infield error, and Handrahan took first on a fielder’s choice when Duarte beat the throw to third. A base hit from Aldrich brought Duarte home but kept the bases loaded. Junior Alexa White delivered the big blow with a two-out grand slam to put Taunton ahead 9-1.
“We just knew we had to come in and do our jobs,” Handrahan said. “We wanted to hit the ball as much as we could and get runs on the board.”
“We really focused on softball,” said Duarte, who finished her fourth year on varsity. “We knew we had the chance to go far, we worked hard at practices. We didn’t want to waste all the hard work we had this year so it was a great way to end it.”
A solo shot from Wachusett in the bottom of the fifth grave the Mountaineers a tiny bit of momentum but Taunton came back with a big response in the sixth inning. Duarte drove Brown in with a double and Enos sent Duarte home with a single to make it 11-2.
“It’s been a long five years, getting in the top four seeds each season only to lose early or lose an upset,” Enos said. “We’ve beat ourselves in the past but we truly showed what kind of team we are this year. There’s been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on that Jack Tripp Field. I could not have asked for a better way to end it. Not many people can say they go out their senior year as a state champion. I’m so happy for everyone.”
“Kya and Mack have been my best friends for as long as I can remember and it’s great to have such a bond with the other two seniors,” Duarte said. “We all really worked well together, there were no arguments. We stayed close, we worked hard together and we ended it with a championship.”
Enos admitted that although it’s sad that the trio won’t play together again in a Taunton uniform, it was the perfect ending to a storied career.
“I’m wicked proud of both of them,” Enos said of her two fellow seniors. “Liana has worked really hard. Mackenzie does her job so well, she can really hit. Both of them, neither played outfield before, and look at them now, they were great.”