Magical Season Ends For The RedmenMar 06, 2015 12:07AM ● By Rick Spencer
Alex DiRocco (3) buries a three-pointer fromthe corner in his final game as a Redman.
Even under the intense spotlight of the MIAA state tournament, high school basketball always comes down to the basics. Limit your turnovers and control the backboards and you’ll do fine. Let the other guys dominate in those areas, and your season will end sooner than you had hoped.
Such was the fate of the Tewksbury High boys’ basketball team on Thursday night. The Redmen committed too many turnovers and were soundly out-rebounded by Arlington High, suffering a heart-breaking, season-ending, 60-52 defeat at the hands of the Spy Ponders in the semi-final round of the MIAA Division 2 North Sectional tournament at Woburn High.
“We didn’t give it our best shot tonight,” said a disappointed TMHS head coach Phil Conners afterward. “I think we got out-toughed. We got pushed around on the boards. They’re not bigger than us, we just got pushed around. We didn’t have our composure. That wasn’t our best game at all.”
Arlington dominated the glass early and often, grabbing six offensive rebounds in the first four minutes of the game as the Spy Ponders raced out to an early 12-2 lead. Senior captain Alex DiRocco sparked Tewksbury to life with a pair of three-pointers as the Redmen closed to within five at 18-13 after one period, but it was all about the backboards in this one.
Arlington out-rebounded Tewksbury by a 20-4 margin in the first half, scoring 12 second-chance points before halftime, and in spite of eight second quarter points from junior guard Nate Tenaglia, the Redmen trailed by four at 32-28 at the half.
The second half saw an improved rebounding effort by the Redmen, but the pressure intensified as the game went on, and turnovers hurt TMHS in the final two quarters. Tenaglia and DiRocco combined on a dazzling take-away play that gave Tewksbury a 33-32 lead at the 6:00 minute mark of the third period, but that would be the last time the Redmen led in the game.
While Tewksbury focused on shutting down Arlington super star Miles Robinson (they held him to 15 points), his supporting cast hurt the Redmen in the paint, and kept Arlington’s tenuous lead intact.
“We did a good job on Robinson, but their other two guys killed us on the glass,” Conners said.
Senior forward Matt Moroney had 12 points, mostly on offensive rebounds, for Arlington while senior forward Francis Roche added 8. Arlington finished with a 34-14 rebounding advantage.
“That was the game,” Conners said of the rebounding disparity. “I don’t even know the number but it’s got to be bad. Their field goal percentage is certainly not going to be good. But it was the offensive rebounds…”
Arlington pulled away to a 45-38 lead at the end of three periods, but the Redmen fought back gamely in the fourth and cut the lead to three points when Tenaglia hit a pair of free throws with 2:02 to go in the game. But another critical turnover on the next Tewksbury possession and a 1-for-5 shooting effort down the stretch allowed the Spy Ponders to out-score the Redmen, 8-3, over the final two minutes, accounting for the 60-52 final.
“Our focus wasn’t there. We lost our composure,” Conners said. “I made a huge mistake without having any type of (signal calling) system. I couldn’t get any calls in (over he noise of the crowd). We looked ragged and we just got pushed around.”
Tenaglia led the Redmen with 18 on the night, while DiRocco finished with 17. Senior captain Joe Csokmay scored eight points and junior forward Adam Gajjaoui had nine.
In spite of his disappointment, Conners was quick to point out that a trip to the sectional finals has been a rare thing, historically, for a Tewksbury High basketball team. The Redmen won 20 games this season, captured their second consecutive Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 championship, and came within one game of earning the right to play for the sectional championship at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell on Saturday.
“What these guys have done turning around the program is just unbelievable,” Conners said. “When I first got here if you said we would get a chance to play to go to the Tsongas I would have said you belong in the insane asylum. I remember when I first got the job and I watched the fall league with our kids. I thought that if we ever went to 10-10 it would be a miracle. But we started building and building and it kind of snowballed, and they’re a committed group of kids. To play to go to the Tsongas with no one over six feet is amazing. To have 20 wins is amazing.
“I’m proud to say I coached those kids,” Conners added. “We have a culture of basketball now that these kids have built. I can’t say enough about them.”
Five Tewksbury seniors played in their final game Thursday night, including DiRocco, Csokmay, Petros Nacopoulos, Derek McGaffigan and Henry Roberts. The contributions of both DiRocco and Csokmay will be sorely missed next year, according to Conners.
“Alex hasn’t come off the court for three years. He’s got the mentality I love,” Conners said. “He’s made himself a college basketball player, and he’s got a high ceiling. He can do even better. He’s really become a true leader.
“Joe, he’s the highest character kid we have," Conners added. “You don’t lose with Joe Csokmay in your line-up. He’s a great leader and he fills up every column on the stat sheet. He doesn’t care about his points, he doesn’t come off the floor and he’s an absolute warrior. You’d want your son to be like Joe.”
Conners was also optimistic about the prospects for next year’s team, while starters like Tenaglia, Gajjaoui and Justin Derrah coming back.
“Division 2 drops off considerably next year. It’s not as tough as it was this year,” Conners said. “We return three very, very good players. There are two open spots, so someone’s got to find the work ethic. I told them if we can find guys who are good enough for those two spots we can be right back here again. But we need to find those guys. Someone’s got to see what they saw here and say ‘I want to do that.' If we get two guys good enough, we could be right back here again.”