Friday, February 10, 2017

St. John's (Shrewsbury) Continues Roll Against Marlboro

By Jason Siegel (@jasiegel1821)

Marlborough, Mass. - In the previous meeting between the St. John’s (Shrewsbury) Pioneers and the Marlborough Panthers this season, Marlborough found a way to win a nailbiter by just one point.

Since that game in late December, St. John’s has won 10 consecutive contests, while Marlborough has clinched its second consecutive Mid-Wach B regular season title.

On Friday night, the Pioneers (14-2) avenged that earlier loss to their emerging Central Mass rival, receiving a complete team effort and prevailing over the Panthers (12-5), 59-44, at Marlborough high school.

St. John’s head coach Bob Foley said that he always looks for his team to improve as the season goes along.

In particular, Foley is pleased with how forward Sean Burke and centers Hunter Gorgas and Will Goss have improved individually as the season has progressed.

“Those three guys (Burke, Gorgas, and Goss) are much better (now) than they were at the beginning of the year,” Foley said following the victory.

Burke’s progression was evident in the stat sheet on Friday night. Burke paced the Pioneers with 19 points to go along with 4 rebounds and 2 steals.

St. John’s other forward, Cole Stairs, played very well defensively. Stairs had the tall task of defending Chris Doherty, the 6-foot-8-inch star Marlboro junior. Doherty, who returned on Friday following a three-game absence due to the flu, scored a team-high 19 points to go along with 10 boards and 3 blocks.

Stairs had 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, a steal and, most importantly to Coach Foley, zero fouls at halftime.

“Cole (Stairs) is a big, strong, tough kid,” Foley said of his 6-foot-5-inch senior, who played the entire second half due to his lack of fouls.

On offense, St. John’s was led by Burke and guards Tyler Mola and Alex Bradley, who had 17 points each.

Mola credited his team’s passing for his success on offense.

“(Bradley) and I get our shots because we move the ball well,” Mola said after the game. “The other players move the ball well, and when they get it (inside), they kick it outside to one of us, and we hit our shots.”

Bradley did much of his damage in the second quarter, scoring 10 points and helping St. John’s jump out to a 24-14 lead.

Marlborough would not go away quietly, however. Baskets by Doherty and Owen Cappadona (9 points, 2 steals) allowed the Panthers to close the second quarter on an 8-2 run, and the Pioneer halftime advantage was 26-22.

St. John’s began the second half on a 15-5 run, extending their lead to 43-27. After a reverse layup by Doherty and a basket by Joao Mendes (7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals) cut the Pioneer lead to 12, Mola and Bradley hit 3-pointers as time wound down in the third quarter, allowing St. John’s to take a 49-36 lead into the fourth period.

The Pioneers scored the first eight points of the final eight minutes, including a steal and one-handed dunk by Burke. Foley put his reserve players in for the final 48 seconds of the game, as the large contingent of St. John’s supporters enjoyed a victory in Marlborough’s gym.

St. John’s has certainly rebounded from their early losses to Nashoba and Marlborough. The progression of their forwards and centers showed on both sides of the ball on Friday night. Coach Foley knows what it takes to win a state championship, and he has the Pioneers playing together with confidence as tournament time approaches.

Marlborough fans had the chance to see Doherty’s improvements, as he put the ball on the floor more, and still lead his team in scoring despite being double-teamed and triple-teamed throughout the night.

The Panthers have now lost two straight games after clinching the Mid-Wach B regular-season title. Having Doherty back is a big boost for the Panthers, and Marlborough needs continuity if they want to make a run at a Division 2 Central title.

Marlborough will look to get back on track in their next game on Tuesday when it visits Mid-Wach B rival Groton-Dunstable.

St. John’s will look to extend its winning streak to eleven on Tuesday when it travels to Shepherd Hill.

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