NEWTON, Mass. – Taunton may have been the top seed heading into Thursday night’s South final at Newton South, the undefeated team having its best season in program history, but the Tigers were squaring off with Needham, a perennial power that had won the past three sectional titles and was only two years removed from winning a state championship.
The Tigers (20-1) had the energy and the excitement of a program on the rise, but it turned out that the experience of having played, and won, on this stage many times before was too much to overcome. Needham won its fourth straight South crown with a 3-0 (25-16, 25-20, 25-11) sweep, although the match was closer than the final score indicated.
In the second set, Taunton led 18-15 and seemed to be on the verge of getting back into the match, but Needham ran off six straight points to grab the lead, the momentum, and eventually the control of the match.
“You have to execute at the highest level,” said Taunton coach Toby Chaperon. “They very rarely made any mistakes. They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot. They’re going to rely on their intelligence and their execution and usually it works out.”
At the start of the match, Taunton seemed rushed. The Tigers were obviously excited about the opportunity and making uncharacteristic mistakes. Passes were just a little off target, blocks were a little too close to the net, and the Rockets seemed to take advantage of everything.
“We were excited to be here,” said Chaperon. “We were amped up to play and I think a couple of plays into it they got a couple big blocks and kind of put us on our heels right away and that’s a team when they put you on your heels, they’re going to push you right over.”
Following a Lance Law ace, Taunton trailed just 8-6, but Needham rattled off 12 of the next 16 points to extend the lead to as many as 10. To that point in the set, the Tigers had only two kills, one from Lens Esquil and the other from Collin Hunter.
Chaperon said of the Rockets, “Their defense was almost flawless. The seams that you think are open, they’re able to get them. They get touches, their back row guys are pulling them up. They just play an awesome brand of defense.”
Law had a kill and Marc DeSousa had a block for a point, as Taunton grabbed a little bit of positive play right at the end of the set and the Tigers carried that over despite falling behind in the match. They came back onto the court for the second looking much more composed and confident.
Taunton jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the second, behind hits from Law, Esquil, and Hunter. Needham answered with four straight to cut the lead to three, but Esquil again took a perfect pass from setter Ricardo DaFonseca, who was also a standout defensively throughout the match, and blasted the Tigers in front by four.
“We just rotated it up, so that we could get Lens up front a little bit,” Chaperon explained. “He’s our second best hitter and we tried to get him more swings. We thought he’s one of our better blockers and we thought he could challenge their opposite and outside hitters a little better.”
Things went back-and-forth for the next few points, with Needham getting back within one on six different occasions, but Law and Esquil always seemed to find a hit that kept Taunton in front. After a DaFonseca kill and a hit that went long, Needham took a timeout trailing 18-15. It turned out to be the moment that would seal the win for the Rockets.
Needham came out with two kills by Jack Cruickshank and one from setter Eli Wallace to tie the set. The Rockets scored the next three points before a Malik Charles kill ended the run and Gage Kingman managed to drop a shot in between the entire Needham defense to make it 21-20. Cruickshank and Cam Robins fired Needham to four straight points and a 2-0 lead in the match.
The Rockets made sure that there would be no three-set comeback from the Tigers. Needham took a commanding 8-1 lead in the third and really never looked back, closing out the match with a dominant set. There were moments of energy from Taunton, such as Charles smashing a point down the middle, but the Rockets led the set throughout.
Regardless of the result in the South final, this was the best season in program history for the Tigers and one that Chaperon believes could build for the future.
“It was fantastic. What a great ride,” he said. “They’re one of the best groups of guys I’ve ever been able to coach. Not only are they great volleyball players, they’re great citizens, great students, and they went through their tie where it was a rough road for a couple years, but look what happens.
“You’ve got the whole school behind you and that’s what high school athletics should be about. Every team deserves to play in front of crowds like this.”
NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Oliver Ames was struggling to start the fourth quarter, having made only one shot from the field and scored three points in nearly four minutes. Defensively, the Tigers had held Needham to only one made field goal and just five points so trailed by only one when Kayla Raymond rose up and drained her second three of the game.
OA, which led 35-34 heading into the final eight minutes, grabbed hold of a 41-39 lead with Raymond’s three and seemingly had also grabbed the momentum in Wednesday afternoon’s opener of the annual Sue Rivard Tournament at the William F. Nixon Gym.
Unfortunately for the Tigers that would be their final made shot. Needham closed out the fourth quarter with an 11-1 run to turn things around and came away with a 50-42 victory that sends the Rockets to Thursday’s final against another Bay State Conference team, Walpole (which beat Brockton earlier in the day).
“In the fourth quarter we just disappeared, said OA coach Elaine Clement-Holbrook. “They’ve got to come of age and learn to play the whole game at the same level of intensity. They need to learn play within themselves and not try to do something not in their wheelhouse.”
Needham started the fourth with a three by sophomore Kiara McIntyre, who came off the bench to score a game-high 19 points, which put the Rockets up 37-35. Raymond (18 points and 14 rebounds) finished in transition off an Abby Reardon assist to tie the game. After a series of free throws, Raymond drilled a shot from the outside for OA’s final lead of the night.
McIntyre forced a turnover in the backcourt and fed freshman Caroline Klemm for a layup to tie it. McIntyre then drove to the basket to put Needham in front to stay and Marianna Jantzen (14 points) added a scooped finish before another Klemm layup and then two free throws pushed the lead to eight inside the final minute.
The Tigers would finish with only seven points in the fourth quarter.
“It came down to turnovers,” explained Clement-Holbrook, but the other thing that did not help us was that our defense was so inconsistent and gave them a lot of chances. From an offensive standpoint, our shooting percentage was abysmal.”
OA took the lead from the start of the game, ahead 12-8 after the first quarter. The Tigers added an 8-3 run to close out the first half with a four-point edge going into the break.
Tate Hadges hit a jumper off a Caroline Flynn assist, Raymond scored on an offensive rebound, and Alex Sheldon (eight points) scored at the rim to make it 22-21. OA got one last possession in the second quarter and Flynn banked home a 30-foot three-pointer to make it 25-21 at halftime.
The lead could have been much larger for the hosts. OA dominated on the glass with five players having at least five rebounds in the first half alone. Raymond led the way with 14 rebounds, but Sheldon (12 rebounds), Caroline Flynn (eight rebounds), and Katie Flynn (seven rebounds) also chipped in to keep possessions alive and keep the Rockets off the boards.
Unfortunately for OA, the good looks it was creating from its offensive sets and the extra looks it was getting from its advantage on the glass went to waste.
“I was looking at the shooting chart from the first half and you look at how many shots we missed…the bottom line is that if you get the ball under the basket then you have to finish and they did not finish,” said Clement-Holbrook, who estimated that the Tigers missed 50 shots in the game.
In the third quarter, Needham chipped into the lead with McIntyre and Jantzen combining for 11 points in the quarter. Raymond scored four points in the third and Meg Holleran drilled a three but the Tigers lead was down to one heading into the fourth.
As the lead got tighter, so did the Tigers. Clement-Holbrook noted, “I think they started to get into panic mode and they started to force things. We understood there were going to be double teams and we did not handle it well. We tried dribbling through things that were not there.”
It is OA’s first loss of the year and Clement-Holbrook hopes this will be an early season lesson for the Tigers. She said, “Hopefully we can recognize where we made our mistakes so we can come back better.”
Oliver Ames (3-1, 3-0) will play Brockton in the consolation game of the Rivard Tournament on Thursday evening.
TAUNTON, Mass. – Not only did Needham make 11 threes in Saturday night’s Div. 1 South final at Taunton High but the Rockets also timed them perfectly. Five of them in the first quarter, including one from just inside half-court by Thomas Shaughnessy at the buzzer, a big three to end a Mansfield run in the second, and three in the fourth quarter that each time matched a Mansfield basket.
The long range shooting of Thomas Shaughnessy (game-high 26 points, including four threes) and Matthew Shaker (20 points, including six triples) and strong play defensively to limit the Hornets on the offensive end propelled Needham to its first ever sectional title with a 65-56 victory.
“Any time a kid can hit from that range, it changes the way you play and good basketball players at this stage make big plays,” said Mansfield coach Mike Vaughan. “I thought we didn’t make enough of them down the stretch to weather that and give us a fighting chance to go on a run.”
Needham brought four busloads of fans to the game and the energy of the crowd translated to the play on the court, as each of the five threes in the first quarter was followed by a salute of some sort to the crowd. Shaker buried three from beyond the arc in the first and Shaughnessy had 10 points, including a pair of threes.
Mansfield, which is normally a team that makes a fair amount from long-range as well, knocked down only one three, from junior John McCoy (11 points) but were having some success taking the ball to the basket. Senior Max Boen had four of his 10 points in the first but also added three of his six assists and three of his four steals.
In the second quarter, the Hornets started to put things together on the offensive end and limited Shaughnessy to just a single point. An 10-0 run to start the second, capped by a Tyler Boulter (10 points) three put Mansfield in front, but Brandon Monheimer hit a pull-up jumper and then Connor Reidy hit a three-pointer (his only bucket of the game) to give Needham a slight edge.
“We never got that separation that we needed,” said Vaughan, “and we didn’t get any easy baskets. Probably after watching the film what I’m going to be most frustrated with is we didn’t get the easy baskets that we typically try to get in games.”
Phil Vigeant stole the ball at mid-court and scored plus a foul to give the Hornets a 33-32 lead at the half. In the third quarter, it felt as though Mansfield may just start to pull away against the Rockets, who were making the program’s first ever trip to the South final, but again clutch shooting put the Rockets back in front.
Boen skipped a pass across to Christian Weber for a three from the corner and then scored on a pair of drives, including one acrobatic finish in the lane with his back to the basket. Each time, Needham had a response and Shaughnessy gave the Rockets the lead for good with a three that made it 47-44 and assisted on a basket by Mike Klemm at the buzzer for a five-point lead heading to the fourth.
“They want the game kept in the 50s for pace and we want the game in the 60s and trying to hold them in the low 50s and we just never got anything in transition, we never got any easy baskets,” Vaughan explained. “Even when we ran and jumped them and tried to speed them up, they did a good job of making possessions long and slowing the game down.”
In the fourth, Mansfield could not find a way to make a run. Every time the Hornets scored, Needham responded with a basket of its own to only increase the excitement of the crowd, which the Rockets clearly fed off.
Boulter buried a three to start the quarter but Shaker answered right back with his fifth of the night. Vigeant knocked one down at the other end to bring Mansfield back within two only for Shaker to hit one from five or six feet behind the line.
Vaughan said, “He hit two that were 25-26 feet away and, the way that we defend, those are indefensible. You have to live with those.”
Boulter scored off an assist by Sam Goldberg but Shaughnessy got free for a corner three that was the dagger for the Rockets. Needham shot 7-for-8 from the line in the final minutes to seal the win and bring the fans storming out onto the court to celebrate.
“We were holding the ball longer than normal on possessions,” said Vaughan. “We were having a hard time reversing the ball. In the first half, I thought we played 24-25 feet away when we want to work 19 feet and in.”
Mansfield finished at 23-3, including 15-1 in the Hockomock League.
By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
NEEDHAM, Mass. – In last year’s win at Macktaz Field, it was the King Philip defense that tossed a shutout in a convincing win over Needham. On Friday night, in the first round of the Div. 2 South sectional at Memorial Field, the Rockets got revenge with a shutout of their own, beating King Philip 24-0 to return to the semifinals.
“Last year we had the better team and made more plays and this year they had the better team,” said KP coach Brian Lee when asked about Needham wanting revenge for last year’s win.
“You can circle it and talk about it and yell in the locker room, but in the end you’ve got to come out and play on the field and they just played better.”
Needham took the lead on its first possession of the game. Senior Sam Foley hit John Andre for 17 yards to the 44-yard line and then two plays later found Andre again for a 56-yard touchdown on the far sideline.
KP had missed an open receiver on third down on its first possession and then fumbled to start its second, which was recovered by the Rockets at the Warriors 25. The defense made a huge stand forcing a turnover on downs to stay in the game.
The Warriors started to move the ball on the next possession when John DeLuca hit James McGhee for 13 yards and a first down and Steven Eaton took a pair of carries 11 yards for another into Needham territory at the 49. But, the drive stalled under heavy pressure from the Needham front four; Kevin Bruce and Rudy Hasenfus sacking DeLuca on back-to-back plays.
“They were physical and played with an attitude that I don’t think we matched from the get-go,” said Lee. “I don’t think we gave ourselves much of an opportunity by the way that we came out and started the game.”
He added, “But I think that was more about Needham playing at a higher level than our guys not wanting to compete.”
The secondary continued to struggle against the Needham passing game. Foley found Joe Bruno for 20 yards down to the Warriors 24 and then on fourth and eight he looked towards the end zone and senior Luke Geraghty. It looked like he had overthrown the receiver only for Geraghty to leap and pull it in with one hand.
“It was two big pass plays,” said Lee. “If you don’t cover someone that makes it easier and then the kid makes a great effort down this end. Kudos to that kid…that’s a kid that wants to make a play and he did.”
King Philip had the ball in Needham territory twice more before halftime but both times the drives stalled and the Warriors came up empty.
On the first a good punt return by Leo Munafo put KP on the Needham 42. DeLuca had a pair of keepers for 15 yards and Giovanni Fernandez had a couple rushes for nine yards to get the ball down to the Rockets 18. Two incomplete passes and a scramble from DeLuca that came up two yards short ended the drive. The second was also ended by good pressure from the Rockets with Bruno and D.C. Cox combining for a sack of DeLuca on third down to force a punt.
The momentum could have turned early in the second half. Ryan McCarthy recovered an onside kick attempt by KP, but Needham started the drive in a hole after two penalties brought the Rockets back to first and 25.
Foley got nine back on a keeper and then completed four straight passes down to the KP 21. His next pass went in and out of the hands of KP linebacker Corey Lombardo, who was all over the field for the Warriors, allowing the drive to continue and Alex Sliney kicked a 32-yard field goal to make it 17-0.
“I can’t believe that we converted that first and 25,” said Needham coach Dave Duffy. “That was a huge turnaround for us to get the field goal and go up by three scores.”
About his senior quarterback, Foley, Duffy added, “They had eight, nine guys in the box and nobody can really run against that but Sam did a great job getting the ball to John Andre and the guys.”
Needham gave KP another chance when a snap flew over the head of Foley and was recovered by Michael Riggs at the Warriors 46. But, on the very next play, DeLuca fumbled at the end of a five-yard keeper and Needham go the ball right back.
The Rockets took advantage and effectively sealed the victory when Jared Sklar broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and raced 43 yards for a touchdown. The extra point made it 24-0 with 10:15 left to play.
“We have not faced a team that physical and that strong,” said Lee. “You can’t mimic that in practice, so it really slowed us down.”
“And when we did have plays, we left them out there.”
King Philip (3-5) will play the loser of Wellesley and Braintree next week.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.