Thursday, February 16, 2017

Natick Clinches BSC Herget with Route of Wellesley

By Jason Siegel (@jasiegel1821)

NATICK, Mass. - On senior night at Natick High School, the host Redhawks had no trouble taking down the rival Wellesley Raiders, 67-46, allowing Natick to win the 2016-2017 BSC Herget division title.

In only his second year on the job, Natick (12-6, 10-6 Bay State Conference) head coach Sam Doner turned a team with a record of 4-16 into a division winner and sectional tournament qualifier.

Still, Coach Doner credited his team’s newfound success entirely to the hard work of his players.

“These kids deserve it,” Doner said following the game Thursday night. “Every day, they bust their behinds… 110 percent of the credit goes to all these kids who have put in the effort.”

Natick senior Chris Cardoso, who has played varsity basketball for Natick since his freshman year, said that the season was filled with hard work, but added that the Redhawks had a lot of fun along the way.

Cardoso helped lift the Redhawk offense off the ground in the first quarter, scoring 6 of his team-high 13 points in the opening period. Cardoso also had 5 rebounds against the Raiders (11-9, 10-6 Bay State Conference).

Natick junior captain Peter Ryan had 4 of of his 12 points in the first quarter. Ryan played aggressively on both sides of the ball against Wellesley. He collected 6 steals and had 11 rebounds, including 4 offensive boards.

Coach Doner was complimentary of Ryan’s competitiveness after the game.

“(Ryan) is one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Doner said.

Doner has certainly seen competitive kids through his 15 years of coaching high school basketball, and through his work at the Doner Elite Basketball Program, a skills development program that he founded.

Ryan wasn’t the only Redhawk wreaking havoc when the Raiders had the ball. Natick collected 14 steals against Wellesley and was constantly looking to force turnovers.

Doner attributed his team’s intensity to Natick’s tough loss to Framingham on Tuesday.

Doner said that his squad was excited that they had clinched a spot in the playoffs before playing Framingham, and the Redhawks were not entirely focused that night. However, they regained their intensity in practice, and demonstrated it throughout their game against Wellesley.

While Natick played aggressively on defense, the Raiders tried to make in-game defensive adjustments, switching back and forth from man-to-man to a two-three zone.

The Redhawks handled the changes well. Doner said that his team was prepared for different defensive looks to be thrown at them by the Raiders.

“We go over (different defenses) plenty of times,” Doner said following the win. “I think our kids are poised and confident. They’re able to read the defense, so they know what needs to be done.”

Cardoso credited Doner for preparing his team and helping the Redhawks handle the different defensive looks.

“Coach did a really good job of telling us what we needed to do,” Cardoso said after the game.

The Redhawks began to separate themselves in the second quarter, when they outscored their rivals 13-6. Ryan capped off Natick’s productive period with a steal and a driving layup, giving Natick a 12-point lead.

Natick’s halftime advantage was 26-13. It was a lead the Redhawks would never relinquish.

Cardoso came out and hit a three-pointer on Natick’s first possession of the third period, making Wellesley’s deficit 16.

Wellesley’s Alex Barron tried to will the Raiders back into contention for a Herget division title by putting up 7 points in the third period. A layup by Barron cut the Natick advantage to 35-26.

The Redhawks responded with a 9-4 run to close the third quarter, highlighted by a one-handed putback by Cardoso and an offensive rebound and putback at the buzzer by Will Brodnitzki, which allowed Natick to take a 44-30 lead into the fourth quarter.

The two rivals traded baskets to start the final quarter, until a 3-pointer by Natick junior captain Sho Kinugawa (8 points, 2 steals) sparked a 7-0 run, putting the game and the division title out of reach of the Raiders.

Coach Doner put the seniors into the game for the final two minutes, as the Redhawks enjoyed a comfortable victory against their crosstown rivals in a division-clinching contest.

After the win, Cardoso talked about what it was like playing in his final regular-season home game.

“It was a lot of fun,” Cardoso said. “A lot of hard work was put into the year. We had a lot of guys step up.” Cardoso added that he is excited that Natick won the Herget division, and that the Redhawks are looking forward to playing in the tournament.

With both teams having ten wins, they will both be participants in the state tournament. Wellesley will have a tough road in the Division 1 South bracket. They will have to contend with some of the top teams in the state, including BC High, Catholic Memorial, Newton North, Needham, and Braintree.

The Raiders will have to be resilient and make some adjustments if they want to make a run at the Division 1 South Sectional title.

The Redhawks will be in the Division 1 Central tournament, where the current favorite is red-hot St. John’s (Shrewsbury). St. John’s has not lost since Christmas, and they have depth at the forward and center positions, where the Redhawks are thin.

It will be difficult for Natick to upset St. John’s, but perhaps the up-and-coming Redhawks could take advantage of their experience playing deeper Eastern Mass teams and make a run to the sectional final.

The Raiders will wrap up their regular season on Sunday when they take on Silver Lake Regional at Westwood High School.

Natick will participate in a tournament in Holliston over February vacation before going on to the D1 Central tournament.

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