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Dan Shaughnessy

Wild and Woolies

Excitement reigns at school basketball finals

By Dan Shaughnessy
March 15, 2009
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WORCESTER - Reasons why we love the high school basketball state finals:

Six games in one day. Single admission.

You get to see 6-foot-3-inch center Katie Zenevitch score 28 points with 26 rebounds in Central Catholic's pulsating 67-62 victory over Shepherd Hill in the Division 1 girls' final (best game of the day). CC guard Ashley Evangelista (best name of the day) sealed the deal with a steal and score in the closing seconds.

You get to see the Millbury Woolies almost win a championship after trailing, 4-0, at the end of one quarter. Really. The Division 2 girls' final featured Notre Dame Academy of Hingham against Millbury and it was 0-0 with three minutes left in the first. Millbury managed to close to within 1 point in the final minute of the game. Notre Dame prevailed, 36-33, but it was hard not to root for a team called the Woolies.

You get to see a big-eyed eighth-grader standing on the floor of the DCU Center in the final minute of the boys' Division 3 final between mighty Watertown and Sabis International Charter School. Xavier Garcia, a 5-8 reserve for Sabis, never touched the basketball, but he has four years of eligibility left and he can always tell his friends he played in the state championship game.

You get to see freshman Rene Castro, wearing his JV uniform while playing for Milton's varsity in the Division 2 rout (81-44) of Hoosac Valley.

Castro was easy to notice. Even during pregame. While the rest of his teammates went through their layup drill wearing Milton's standard red warmup top, Castro wore his No. 24 JV jersey. No warmup top for the freshman. Not even a regulation varsity uniform.

Castro played on the Milton junior varsity for most of the winter, then got called up for the final five games of the regular season. He wound up leading the team with 23 points and hitting the winning shot in the final minute of play in Tuesday's EMass championship win over Woburn at the Garden. It was sort of like Jacoby Ellsbury playing in the minors all season, then leading the Red Sox through the 2007 World Series. Or maybe a little like young Tampa lefty David Price coming out of nowhere to fan J.D. Drew in the crucial moment of the seventh game of last year's ALCS.

The Wildcats didn't need late-game heroics from Castro yesterday. Milton led, 17-2, late in the opening quarter and it was never close. Castro scored only 2 points.

Milton plays in the rugged Bay State Conference, gaining tourney toughness against teams such as Newton North and Walpole. Coach Sean Lopresti, a veteran of nine years at Milton, carried 11 seniors on this year's team, which is one of the reasons it took so long for Castro to move up to varsity. One of those seniors is 6-foot guard Marcus McDermott, this year's MVP in the Bay State Herget.

A lot of the Milton seniors played varsity as freshmen back in the days when Newton North (53-1 over two seasons) ruled the state with future Division 1 guards Anthony Gurley (UMass) and Corey Lowe (Boston University).

"We took our lumps in those years," recalled Lopresti. "I remember Anthony smiling and waving to me during the games and saying, 'Don't worry coach, I'll go easy on 'em.' "

The Nike was on the other foot this year. With only one player over 6-2, Milton averaged 82 points per game and was never challenged in the final.

It was like that all morning, afternoon, and into the early evening. EMass carried a 5-0 record going into the final game of the night.

Swampscott's girls set the tone with a 72-38 beating of Quaboag in the Division 3 girls' opener, which tapped off at 10:45 a.m. Notre Dame's Cougars kept it going in Division 2, and Central Catholic made it a clean sweep for the EMass girls. The CC Raiders can put three 6-footers on the front line and it was hard for Shepherd Hill to match up against Zenevitch (who has committed to Boston College) and the other treetops.

It was a long way from the days when Central and Western Massachusetts girls dominated. Anybody remember Amherst beating Haverhill, 74-36, in the Division 1 girls' final in 1993? They were so good Madeleine Blais wrote a book about them: "In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle." A quiet classic.

Traditional power (in everything) St. John's of Shrewsbury carried the torch for Central/Western Massachusetts in the last game of the day/night, beating Lynn English, 80-62, in the Division 1 boys' final. Finally, a victory for folks who live west of Framingham.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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