It’s time to add 2017 to the list.
For the first time since 2001, the Rocketeers are Hockomock League champions following a 45-40 win over Foxboro on Friday night. With a win, and a Milford loss to Sharon, North Attleboro clinched the division title outright.
It’s been a long four year stretch for head coach Sean Mulkerrins and his squad. The Rocketeers went 0-20 in his first year at the helm, won just five games a year later and eight games one season ago.
Now, North Attleboro has 12 wins with three games to go and sits atop the Davenport division as Hock champs.
“To be honest, it’s been a roller coaster,” Mulkerrins said of the past four seasons. “At times, it felt like insurmountable odds, it felt like we were putting in a lot and not necessarily getting a lot. I credit [former Rocketeers coach] Chris Perron, who’s been everything to me as a mentor and a father figure when I played for him here at North, and opposing coaches like Jon [Gibbs] and Mike Vaughan who were helpful along the way.
“Every year we’ve taken a small step. Four years ago, my first captain Jake Lang kept that locker room as positive as it could be. And I think it kept those freshmen seeing and hearing those positive things. It feels good to see those kids go through the process and get here.”
The three freshmen on that winless team were Brent Doherty, Jonny Friberg and Thomas Reynolds. All three, along with classmates Kyle McCarthy and Hacmoni Cuevas, have been a vital part of keeping the program moving forward and winning the title this season.
“This feels great, I couldn’t be happier for the coaches and the team,” Doherty said. “Coming from where we were earlier in my career to winning the Hock tonight is the best feeling. All the hours of practice paid off and now we’re looking to do as much damage as possible in playoffs.”
It took a defensive stand over the final six minutes of the game for the Rocketeers to hold off Foxboro, who secured a second play finish and a trip to the postseason based on all of the results in the league.
“We didn’t talk or say much about a league title, or talk about the tournament during the season because we want to focus on the process,” Mulkerrins said. “We finally mentioned it the other day because we had to come out and play and we wanted to motivate the guys. The defense down the stretch was great. Jon [Gibbs] does such a great job, isolating guys, getting the matchups. It was kind of like playing chess and he’s freaking good. I have so much respect for him. But hats off to our guys, they played just well enough and I’m so proud of them.”
“I thought our effort was terrific all night,” said Foxboro head coach Jon Gibbs. “I thought we really battled and competed. I thought defensively we did a really good job. We came into the game with a plan to deal with Doherty and Friberg. We didn’t want them to beat us, we’re going to try and make other guys step up and make shots and they did. So give credit to North Attleboro, it was a great team win for them.
The Rocketeers led by as much as 10 early in the third quarter but the Warriors fought back to make it a one possession game. North’s Hacmoni Cuevas converted a three point play to put the Rocketeers up 34-25 with 3:51 to play in the third, but Foxboro closed the quarter with a 9-3 run.
After Mark Clagg and Doherty (nine points, three assists) traded three pointers, the Warriors were able to pull within three by shutting down North for the rest of the quarter and both Joe Morrison (nine points) and Teddy Maher connecting from beyond the arc. The Rocketeers led 37-34 heading into the fourth.
That lead didn’t last too long. North’s scoreless streak stretched over two minutes into the final period while Morrison hit a jumper and Andrew Block (seven points, five rebounds, four assists) drove the lane for an easy two to take a 38-37 lead.
While the momentum seemed to be swinging in Foxboro’s favor, suddenly it stopped.
North broke through on the offensive end, with the inside-out game paying off as Friberg (12 points, 14 rebounds) kicked it out to Cuevas for a three and a 40-38 lead with 5:40 to play.
Foxboro wouldn’t score again until under a minute to play.
“It speaks to the metal toughness of this group,” Mulkerrins said. “Similar to the game at the Dunk against Milford, we were up big, then down big and we could have quit. And this game, same thing. Maybe in years past, this team might have, but I think they finally found out what it means to be a winning team.”
It actually took the Rocketeers two minutes to add onto the lead with Reynolds hitting a pair of key free throws to double the lead with 3:31 to play.
The Warriors had a couple of open looks during the stretch, but were unable to convert.
With just under a minute to play, Friberg took it baseline and somehow managed to reach back underneath the basket and lay it in for a 44-38 lead. Foxboro responded with a putback with 30 seconds to play but Chad Peterson(seven points) iced the game with a free throw as Foxboro missed on the other end.
“I thought down the stretch we got some good looks and we just didn’t make them and that’s just basketball,” Gibbs said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow because at times I thought we executed fine but just didn’t put it in the basket…but that happens some times. At the end of the day, I’m really proud of them. We battled and held them to under 20 points in the second half.
“North did a nice job defensively, they did a lot of things to take us out of our rhythm. Both times we’ve played them this year they made it really difficult for us to score. So give a lot of credit to Sean [Mulkerrins] and credit to those guys on North.”
It was a bit of a slow start for both sides, combing for just five points in the five 5:32 of play. North eventually was able to get into a rhythm and threes from McCarthy and Billy Drummond handed Big Red a 15-9 lead after one.
Foxboro cut the deficit to one (18-17) midway through the second quarter, but North finished the frame with a 9-2 run — a Peterson three, a layup from Doherty, and four straight from Friberg — to take a 27-19 lead into the locker room.
North Attleboro boys basketball (12-7 overall, 9-6 Hockomock) is back in action inside Pickering Gymnasium on Sunday when the Milford Scarlet Hawks come to town. Foxboro (9-9, 8-8) can finish no lower than second in the division, thus clinching a playoff spot. The Warriors will look to improve their record and seeding next ween as they host a February vacation tournament, starting with a game against Randolph.
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