|St. John's (Shrewsbury) junior forward Sean Burke fires a jump shot against Holy Name. Photo by Ryan Bowman.|
WORCESTER, Mass. - The St. John’s (Shrewsbury) Pioneers have something that most high school basketball teams in Massachusetts could only dream of having: Seven players who are at least 6-foot-3.
On Sunday afternoon at WPI, it was 6-foot-4 senior forward Cole Stairs’ turn to be the catalyst for St. John’s (18-3).
Stairs scored a game-high 19 points and pulled down 21 rebounds to lead the second-seeded Pioneers past the fourth-seeded Naps of Holy Name Central Catholic High School, by a final score of 63-51 in the MIAA Division 1 Central semifinals.
St. John’s head coach Bob Foley said that he was expecting Stairs to play a pivotal role for the Pioneers against Holy Name (17-5).
“(Stairs) was immense,” Foley said after the win. “I’m very happy for him. He’s a senior that has worked very hard to get to where he is.”
Stairs said that he focused on two words during the game: “rebound and finish.”
Holy Name hung with St. John’s in the first half, despite only having one player who is taller than 6-foot-3. Senior guard James Trottier had eight of his 12 points in the first period on two three-pointers and a jump shot.
For St. John’s, it was junior forward Sean Burke who got the offense going early, scoring 5 of his 12 points in the first eight minutes. Burke also pulled down 5 boards and had 2 blocks against Holy Name.
After a driving layup by senior Dhalyn Sanders-Dyer (team-high 15 points), and a three pointer from the corner by Trottier gave the Naps a 15-13 lead, St. John’s guard Alex Bradley (8 points) hit a three-pointer, providing the Pioneers with a 16-15 advantage at the end of the first period.
The two teams traded baskets in the second quarter. Neither team led by more than two points until a jumper by Trottier gave the Naps a 24-21 lead.
A baseline jumper by Burke, a pair of free throws by junior center Hunter Gorgas (9 points, 9 rebounds) and a layup by Stairs allowed St. John’s to open up a 27-24 lead.
Sanders-Dyer closed out the second quarter with a jump shot, pulling Holy Name back within one point prior to halftime.
Holy Name put together an 8-3 run to start the third quarter. Sophomore guard Sam Adusei (8 points) hit a corner three-pointer following a steal by Sanders Dyer.
Junior Center Devandre Edmonds (12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks) followed that up with a tip-in, which gave the Naps a 31-29 lead.
A layup and a free throw by Adusei made Holy Name’s advantage 34-30 with 4:49 remaining in the third quarter.
St. John’s countered with a 14-2 run to close out the third quarter. Stairs and Gorgas paced the Pioneers during that stretch, as the two 6-foot-5 forwards combined for 8 points over that span.
St. John’s guard Tyler Mola (12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) also played a pivotal role during the Pioneers’ 14-2 run, assisting on two layups and working the ball inside on every possession over the final four-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter.
Coach Foley said that the third quarter is always an important time for St. John’s, and that the Pioneers’ defense sparked St. John’s 14-2 run.
“We’ve always felt that the third quarter belongs to us,” Foley said after the game. “We played great defense (in the third quarter),”
Mola added that the Pioneers picked up the pace in the third period, which led to easy layups.
“Most of our points in the third quarter came from running and getting the ball out on fast breaks,” Mola said after the game.
A layup by Burke that was assisted by Gorgas capped off the third quarter, and the Pioneers took a 44-36 lead in the the fourth period.
St. John’s continued to maintain its lead in the fourth quarter, and a pair of free throws from Stairs opened up a 50-40 lead for the Pioneers.
After layups by Sanders-Dyer and Edmonds diminished Holy Name’s deficit to 50-44, Mola scored six of the next eight points in the game on a three-pointer for the top of the key, a floater, and a free throw, which opened up a 59-46 lead for the Pioneers with 2:45 remaining.
Coach Foley was very happy with Mola’s performance, noting that opposing guards who are defending Mola always play with a lot of physicality, and Sunday’s semifinal was no different. Trottier and Sanders-Dyer guarded Mola closely as soon as the ball was inbounded to him.
The Naps were unable to come within eight points for the remainder of the game, and the Pioneers made more than enough free throws to advance to the Division 1 Central final, where the Pioneers will play the top-seeded Franklin Panthers on Friday at Worcester State at 5:45 PM.
The words “St. John’s Pioneers” have been synonymous with success in the Division 1 Central Sectional tournament, as Coach Foley has led St. John’s to an MIAA D1 Central Sectional title in 7 of the past 9 seasons.
Despite all of his success, Foley, the winningest coach in New England high school basketball history, does not take anything for granted. He said that he and his team would enjoy their win over Holy Name for a few days before turning their attention to Franklin.
Franklin, with a record of 18-2, is a formidable opponent, but Foley knows more than anyone how to bring a team to a state championship.