Friday, March 10, 2017

Cathedral Panthers Are Kings and Queens of D4 South Once Again

Cathedral captured the D4 South championship in both boys' and girls' basketball. Click image to enlarge.
By Nate Weitzer (@Nweitzer7)

BROCKTON, Mass. – For high school basketball programs, there’s consistency and then there’s outright dominance.

Boston Cathedral continued to assert its status as the most dominant program in MIAA Division 4 over the past several years, as both the Panthers girls and boys hoops teams won their third consecutive sectional titles in convincing fashion.

The Cathedral girls defeated Cohasset, 77-40, in the first half of Friday’s doubleheader at Brockton High to advance to a third consecutive Eastern Mass. Final while the boys’ team demolished Monomoy, 100-44, to punch their ticket to the TD Garden next week. 

“It’s great for the school and the Cathedral community to have both your boys and girls programs going down to the Garden to play in the state semifinals,” said boys coach Larry Merritt. “I’m very proud and it’s a credit to the coaching staff, the administration and to the student body that supports each team.”

As the defending D4 state champions, the Lady Panthers (17-4) seemed to lead underdog Cohasset (18-8) before the opening whistle. They began the game on a 13-0 run and never looked back on their way to a 77-40 victory.

A fantastic starting unit led the Panthers, as upperclassmen Masseny Kaba (8 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and Taliyah Countrymon (16 points, 4 steals) showed their experience in their third sectional finals appearance, while freshman Mackenzie Daleba stole the stage with a game-high 22 points and 16 rebounds, 11 of which came on the offensive end. 

“Day in and day out, the players work so hard that it tires me out,” said Cathedral three-year coach Clinton Lassiter. “They work hard in the classroom, where our team GPA is around 3.5 and their hard work in both areas is paying off.”

Lassiter led his players to a D4 South title in 2015 in his first year as head coach and to the school’s first state championship the following year. Now the program is two wins away from winning back-to-back state titles. 

“That first year, they didn’t know what to expect,” Lassiter said about his seasoned players. “Last year they were hungry because of the previous year, and now they’ve tasted [a state title], so they want to go out and win another.”

For the boys team, another 100-point performance is nothing to write home about, as the Panthers averaged 100.2 points per game while running through the D4 South bracket. 

As per usual, Cathedral relied on a breakneck pace and full court press to get ahead of Monomoy (15-7) early, forcing 20 turnovers on the way to a 49-19 lead by halftime.

“That’s what we practice,” said Merritt. “I would say that 80 percent of our practice is spent on defense. It’s really about teaching the kids and emphasizing that our defense creates our offense and it’s been showing this postseason.”

Senior guard Calvin Cheek (7 points, 8 assists, 12 steals) set the defensive tone for Cathedral, while Trevor Lynch (16 points, 6 steals), Khalil Blair (18 points), Emmanuel Green (14 points), Julian Howell (10 points) and Dillon Handricken-Barros (16 points) all scored in double figures. 

“We follow the motto that there is no ‘I’ in ‘Team’ and we’re not concerned about our opponents, we’re more concerned about ourselves and what we need to do to be successful on and off the court,” Merritt asserted.

The Panthers will move on to the TD Garden to face defending state champion St. Mary’s at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14, while the Lady Panthers will face the winner of Saturday’s matchup between Fenway and New Mission in a 2:15 p.m. game to open Tuesday’s action at the Garden. 

While the Cathedral (18-4) boys earned a third straight sectional title, their season has ended at the TD Garden two years running, including a narrow 65-64 loss to St. Mary’s last year, so this experienced group is looking to get over that hurdle and earn a shot at a state championship. 

“We have three days to prepare for it, so we’re going to look at some film and get ready to face [The Spartans] at the Garden,” Merritt said. 

No matter how they perform in the Eastern Mass. Finals, it’s become clear that the road to a D4 South title goes through Cathedral’s loaded program. 

Here's some video from the boys' win:

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