Goalie Bailey MacBurnie’s return has put St. Mary’s back in playoff contention

The way last season ended didn’t sit well with the players and coaches at St. Mary’s.

For the first time in 18 years, the Spartans found themselves out of the playoffs a year after playing in the Super 8 tournament. In part, the 8-10-2 season had to do with a young roster and five players choosing to continue their career at prep schools, including goaltender Bailey MacBurnie.

But after a season tending the crease at Brewster Academy, MacBurnie elected to return to St. Mary’s for his senior year. In the eyes of coach Mark Lee, it’s as though his netminder never left.

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“I believe that you build your team from goaltender out, and I think we have maybe the best goalie in the state — or certainly one of a couple,” said Lee.

“He’s certainly fulfilling his role and living up to hype he had coming into this season. Bailey has been huge part of success.”

Behind MacBurnie’s sterling 1.46 goals against average, the No. 10 Spartans have rebounded through the first 13 games of this season, going 8-4-1 and thrusting St. Mary’s into contention for the Catholic Central crown.

MacBurnie’s return has been the catalyst for a team that took its bumps during a tumultuous season last winter and has finally began to gel. However, he isn’t the only MacBurnie to step into the spotlight.

Shawn, a junior and Bailey’s brother, currently leads the team with 12 points on four goals and eight assists. Senior Jordan Manthorne (6-2—8) and sophomore Jackson Allard (4-5—9) round out the Spartans’ top line.

Behind them, freshman Dante Maribito has taken advantage of the opportunities given to him, registering four goals and four assists while adding depth to the forward group.

Maybe the most pleasant surprise for Lee and his Spartans has been the emergence of Max McKay. Only an eighth-grader, McKay is seeing a heavy workload on defense and has adjusted admirably through the first 13 games of his varsity career.

While looked to defensively, McKay has provided an offensive punch with four goals in his last five games — all Spartan victories.

“He’s young,” Lee said of McKay, “but maturity-wise he plays like a veteran. He’s been a big part of our success early on.”

The success didn’t come overnight. The Spartans entered the Christie Serino Holiday Classic at the end of December with a 1-3-0 record and the daunting task of playing defending Super 8 finalist and Catholic Central league rival Austin Prep. The Spartans rose to the occasion, skating to a 1-1 tie.

And that, for Lee, is where his team’s confidence began to brew.

The next night, St. Mary’s took a 3-1 decision over Hingham. Later that week, MacBurnie backstopped his team to a 4-3 win over defending Catholic Central champion Archbishop Williams.

On Saturday, the Spartans reached a milestone on their young season. A 3-1 victory over then-No. 5 Arlington Catholic marked the eighth win of the season for St. Mary’s, equaling their total from a season ago. Since coming away with the tie against Austin Prep, St. Mary’s is 7-1-1 and one game out of first place in the Catholic Central.

Its next goal is on the horizon — a return to the postseason.

Lee refuses to let his young team get ahead of itself. The wins they have are nice, but they mean little if you can’t win the next one.

“We have to work to earn everything we get,” Lee said. “We’re not going to out-skill you, but we have a ‘we’re going to out-work you’ type attitude.

“Talent-wise we’re not good enough to show up and beat anybody, and I think we understand that as a group. As a team, through the confidence gained from the last few games, they know that hard work does pay off.”

Games of the week

No. 2 Malden Catholic at No. 4 Central Catholic, Monday, 1:30 — The host Raiders have already picked up several marquee victories at this point in the season, but few would rival a win over Malden Catholic, the three-time defending Super 8 champions. While both teams are gifted offensively, this game will ultimately come down to goaltending as Central’s Colin Soucy will square off against either freshman Kyle Casey or junior Alex Reissis for the Lancers.

No. 18 Reading at Hingham, Monday, 3:00 — Both teams have shown flashes of excellence after losing many players to graduation and prep schools. This matchup of the lone public schools to boast a Super 8 title should live up to its billing.

No. 6 Springfield Cathedral at No. 1 BC High, Saturday, 4:20 — Goaltender Brandon Payzant and defensemen Sam Topham and Ryan Shea will have their hands full as the top-ranked Eagles will look to stymie a Panther offense that boasts two of the top-five scorers in the state in DJ Petruzzelli (11-20-31) and Peter Crinella (17-12-29).

Westwood at Medfield, Saturday, 4:30 — Offensively, Medfield and Westwood are first and second, respectively, in Tri-Valley League play for goals scored. The two rivals are also first and second in goals allowed in league play. Something will have to give.

No. 3 Austin Prep at No. 5 Arlington Catholic, Saturday, 6 — The two Catholic Central rivals skated to a 3-3 tie on Jan. 4 and are a combined 5-1-0 since then. With Austin Prep and Arlington Catholic in first and second in the league, respectively, this game could go a long way in determining who emerges as league champion.