Saturday, March 17, 2018

Watertown Goes from Sleeper to State Champ in D3, Topping Easthampton

By Jason Siegel (@jasiegel1821)

Springfield, Mass. - Prior to the sectional tournaments, picked 7th-seeded Watertown in D3 North as a potential sleeper.

The Raiders (20-6) then proceeded to exceed everyone’s expectations but their own, winning the 2018 MIAA Division 3 boys state title by beating the Easthampton Eagles, 72-53, on Saturday afternoon at Springfield College.

Watertown’s mantra in the tournament was #Sleeper, and both head coach Stephen Harrington and star senior guard Julio Fulcar (25 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals) said that the #Sleeper motto motivated them.

“We found some people weren’t really giving us the credit or respect that we deserved,” Fulcar said after the game. “We just used that as motivation.”

“(#Sleeper) was kind of a theme for the tournament,” Coach Harrington added. “As a coach, you like the kids to have some fun.”

Nothing came easy for Watertown against the Eagles (19-6). The first half of the game was fast-paced and physical, with each team pushing the ball up the floor.

Coach Harrington said the Raiders were expecting an up-tempo pace coming into the contest.

“(The Eagles) play extremely fast,” Coach Harrington said after the game.”It was just about us stopping them in transition.

Watertown jumped out to an early 9-2 lead, with 6 of those points coming via layups. It also prevented Easthampton from running out on the break following defensive rebounds.

Baskets by Ant Moynihan (team-high 15 points) and Zade Jenkins (11 points, 5 rebounds) cut the Eagles’ deficit to 10-6, but the Raiders scored 8 of the final 12 points of the first quarter to take an 18-10 lead after eight minutes of play.

Watertown picked up it they left off, beginning the second quarter on a 15-4 run. John Korte had 8 of his 24 points over that span, while Julio Fulcar added a pair of jumpers.

Korte also pulled down 7 boards and had a pair of steals.

Fulcar was not surprised with Korte’s play against the Eagles.

“(Korte) just does what he does,” Fulcar said following the win.

Coach Harrington was pleased with the leadership that Fulcar and Korte, who are both seniors, displayed throughout the season.

“(Fulcar’s and Korte’s) leadership really stuck out with this team,” Coach Harrington said.

The Raiders capped of the first half with a 7-2 run, headlined by a pair of layups from Korte and a steal leading to a layup from Fulcar.

A basket by Darnel Whitley (14 points, 7 rebounds).  for Easthampton in the waning seconds of the quarter made Easthampton’s halftime deficit 40-19.

Easthampton opened the second half on a 7-1 run, with Jenkins scoring 4 points over that span. Watertown responded with a pair of layups by senior Wenston Rodriguez (12 points, 4 rebounds) to open up a 45-27 lead.

After a basket by Easthampton’s  Sophandara Pek (13 points, 6 rebounds) made their deficit 45-29, Watertown went on an 11-3 run, which was spearheaded by Fulcar and included a steal, eurostep, and layup from junior Yoseph Hamad (16 points).

Easthampton closed the third quarter on a 6-0 run, taking a 56-38 deficit into the fourth frame.

Moynihan scored seven straight points early in the fourth period to cut Watertown’s lead to 58-45, but Watertown responded with a 10-2 run to put the game out of reach of the Eagles.

Fulcar said after the game that he knew the Raiders were state championship contenders at the start of the season.

Even if not everyone initially agreed with that assessment, Watertown proved on Saturday that a team can take being called a sleeper and turn it into a motivator that leads to a state championship.

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