|Image courtesy of Saint John's High School|
SHREWSBURY, Mass. - Behind a suffocating defense and some fantastic ball movement, St. John's (Shrewsbury) made short work of rival St. Peter-Marian, topping the Guardians 67-37, and earning coach Bob Foley his 879th career win, a New England high school basketball record.
Known for rarely talking about himself, Foley wasn't even aware of the record until the game ended, but felt obligated to discuss it. Well, sort of.
"Yeah, I guess I gotta say something about that," Foley said with a chuckle. "It's the kids. I've been just blessed to be at great places with real super support from our administration. Whether it was at Uxbridge High where I started, St. Peter's when I was there… And here at St. John's, the support has just been unbelievable."
St. John's (6-2) made their coach's record-setting night one without drama, as the Pioneers opened the game on an 11-0 run, spearheaded by a pair of steals and buckets in transition by junior guard Tyler Mola (21 pts, 5 asts, 3 steals). St. John's kept St. Peter-Marian (6-2) off the board until the final two minutes of the first quarter, and ended the period with a 13-2 lead.
While the Pioneers opened up in a man-to-man defense, early foul trouble for Mola and junior forward Sean Burke (4 rebs, 2 blocks) forced Foley to switch to a 2-3 zone. St. John's executed it flawlessly, keeping the Guardians out of the paint, and forcing SPM to settle for contested jump shots.
As the shots kept bouncing out, the Guardians began to force poor looks and turn the ball over late in the first and early in the second.
"Coach likes (playing) man (to man defense), but I think we're a really good zone team," Mola said. "We really take away the shooters, and we do a good job of getting out on the corner shooters as well. When they miss shots, we get the rebounds and we just run."
After junior Hunter Gorgas (7 pts, 6 rebs) tipped an offensive rebound back in for a bucket and a foul to give St. John's a 27-9 advantage, St. Peter-Marian finally found a bit of offensive rhythm.
Led by senior guard Juan Zorrilla (8 pts, 2 steals), the Guardians mounted a 12-4 run to pull the game within 10 points. But, just as it seemed like SPM would take some momentum into the locker room for halftime, senior Alex Bradley (18 pts, 3-5 on 3-pointers) buried a trey with four seconds left in the half, sending us to intermission with the Pioneers up 34-21.
The Pioneers came out of the break on fire, shredding through St. Peter-Marian's full-court press and opening the period on a 13-1 run. Burke quickly hit a layup, then blocked a shot on the other end, while Cole Stairs (8 pts, 8 rebs, 1 steal) dished out a nifty feed to Mola to put St. John's up 47-22.
"We knew they were sending hard double-teams," Bradley said. "So we knew that if we kept moving the ball, and stayed out of the corners, we were going to get guys wide open, because they kept sending two guys to the ball."
Later in the period, Stairs would tip in an And-1, then finish a feed from Mola to push the Pioneer lead to 31, and SPM would not get closer than 26 the rest of the way.
"It means a lot (to play for coach Foley)," Mola said. "To be a part of this team, and the winningest coach in New England, it's a great honor. He's a great coach, he's a great guy. He just keeps it fun and keeps everyone involved… It's awesome."
Mola also mentioned that, while Foley himself was unaware of the record, the players knew it was coming.
With the win, Foley passes Vito Montelli of St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, Connecticut, and his team collects its third straight-win after a losing back-to-back games against Nashoba and Marlboro. For St. Peter-Marian, it is a second loss in a row after the Guardians began the year 6-0.
SPM will get a chance to get back on the winning track Friday night at St. Bernard's, while St. John's looks to keep its momentum going Friday night at home against Springfield Commerce.