The Phillips Exeter Academy boys made history. The Andover High girls were denied in their determined bid to make more. A perfect 22-0 run for the Melrose High boys ended in the Division 2 North semifinals against Brighton, the 65-62 defeat ending their season. The St. Mary’s of Lynn girls, with visions of duplicating their march to the Division 3 state title in 2011, were denied in the North semis, 61-60, by upstart Watertown.
There is never any shortage of storylines when the high school and prep basketball seasons turn the page to March. This season is no different.
Duncan Robinson leads Exeter to first Class A title
Following a 22-1 regular season, the only blemish coming at Kimball Union Academy (61-51 on Jan. 5), Phillips Academy rolled through the NEPSAC Class A tourney with three straight wins, the finale a 58-47 conquest of Choate Rosemary Hall, 58-47, in last Sunday’s title game at Endicott College.
Exeter rode the stellar play of tournament MVP Duncan Robinson to the first Class A title in the history of the program. A 6-foot-7 forward from New Castle, N.H., who was a four-year player at Governor’s Academy in Byfield, Robinson delivered 24 points and 10 rebounds in the victory. Headed to Williams College this fall, he buried three early treys to push Exeter to a 16-4 cushion.
When Choate made a late run, cutting a 19-point margin to 9, he drained another three-ball from the corner to secure the win.
“I caught it on the wing . . . threw a shot fake, one dribble, and pulled up, and found myself open, and thought, ‘I might as well shoot it,’ ” said Robinson.
“I know that coach [Jay Tilton ] has a lot of confidence in me. That is where it comes from. I felt confident I could make it, and luckily, it went in.”
Robinson was one of 10 close-knit seniors on a 13-player roster.
One, 6-4 guard Jordan Hill , whom Tilton calls “one of the best on-ball defenders in New England,” is heading to the Big 10 next year to play for Wisconsin. Another, 6-4 Chris Braley , a Maine native who contributed 15 points in the championship game, will play at Stony Brook.
Tilton said the loss to Kimball Union in January, his team’s first game after returning from Christmas vacation, was not a wake-up call. KUA features 6-8 big man Abdul Malik-Abou, who has received offers from Boston College and Connecticut, among others.
But it was an important moment for Exeter.
“It was not a typical wake-up call,” he said. “There was never a point we felt we could just show up and win. We’re a sum-of-our-parts team, and the guys know that.
“But, it told us we really had certain things we wanted to do defensively and didn’t execute in that game. We used it as a signature mark — If we don’t improve, we can be beaten by anybody. Never fall asleep against anybody.”
Exeter allowed just 42 points per game on the season, while averaging 72 on offense with a balanced attack.
“We worked together so hard, and [the championship] felt so great, for coach and all the people that supported us back at school, but mostly for each other,” said Robinson.
Central Catholic overcomes Andover girls in semifinal
The Andover girls fell to Central Catholic 62-31 in a Division 1 North semifinal in Tewksbury on Wednesday, marking the first time in four seasons the Golden Warriors have lost a playoff game.
“Central was just the better team, they beat us three out of four times [this season] and they deserved to
beat us,” said Andover coach Jim Tildsley.
“I can’t take anything away from my kids.”
The Golden Warriors finished the regular season 16-6, then went on to win two tournament games, including knocking off No. 1 seed Lynn English 55-47 in the quarterfinals.
“This season we’ve overachieved, we really have. No one had us here, and you know they got there through hard work,” Tildsley said.
“To go 18-7 this year, in our league, and to win a couple of tournament games and get to the semifinals, and to beat the number one team, it’s a heck of an accomplishment.”
Melrose High Red Raiders surpass expectations
As the top seed in Division 2 North, the Melrose boys had aspirations of a state championship, though they had been pegged to finish fourth in the Middlesex League at the beginning of the season.
The Red Raiders tapped off the tourney with wins over Arlington (76-52) and New Mission (69-65) before being ousted by Brighton.
Coach Mike Kasprzak hopes his team’s success inspires future Red Raiders to shoot for greatness.
“We formed a lot of great memories and inspire the younger kids,” Kasprzaki said.
“Every kid wants to play Melrose basketball. Maybe we don’t go 22-0, but maybe this propels the kids going forward to work and excel.”
After loss, St. Mary’s girls look ahead to next year
The St. Mary’s girls were 21-2 when they took on 11th-seeded Watertown, a 10-10 squad during the regular season that opened the tourney with a 47-32 win over Amesbury.
But the Spartans were derailed, sent home with a difficult 61-60 loss.
Ending the season minus a championship plaque does not translate into failure.
“If you measure success in high school in state championships, you’ll be disappointed,” said St. Mary’s coach Jeff Newhall.
“There’s a lot more good players on the boys and girls side playing year round. All it takes is one or two teams to be able to do it [upset a higher-ranked opponent]. If you’re one of those underdog teams you can say, ‘Look they did it — so we can do it too.’ It becomes a little bit more real.”
He has turned the focus to next year, when he will return all five starters.
“If the girls learned one thing — when you have the record they had, it doesn’t matter who it is — you’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” added Newhall.
“I can only say that so many times as a coach.
“After this loss, maybe that becomes real. My hope is that next year when they realize this is their last shot, they won’t let it happen again.”
There is no lack of motivation for any team starting the offseason earlier than expected.