After losing both regular season matchups to Mount Greylock, the St. Joseph Crusaders won the game that counted the
most, defeating the Mounties 64-45 in the Division 3 Western Mass quarterfinal at the Mountie Dome on Thursday night.
"We put together a really good defensive game-plan. And I had two kids that have been role players not scorers in Zach Neary and Josh Kelly. Who our focus was, you are going to cover Picard. You are not going to let him get open. He has got to work his tail off the entire game," said St. Joseph head coach Paul Brindle. "Because the previous games, he really was the reason they beat us. He dominated us two games in a row. That was the focus and these two kids accepted that, bought into it, and executed it."
The Mountie senior center, Tyler Picard, was held scoreless in the first half and finished the game with just four points. He fouled out in the 4th quarter and was never able to make an impact. Picard was not the only one who struggled in the game though, as many of his teammates struggled to put the ball through the basket. Mount Greylock had their fair share of wide open looks but they were unable to sink them.
"This is a really good team and if they are on fire. Put it this way, if that defense we designed, if they were hitting shots early in the game. We would have had to come out of it right away," said Brindle.
While the Mounties struggled to knock down baskets, the Crusaders came out on point. Seniors Jon Bianchi, Mike Carpenter, and Lavante Wiggins combined for four 3-pointers in the first quarter and 22 of the team's 24 first quarter points. Carpenter and Wiggins alone combined for 29 of St. Joe's 42 first half points. The key to their success was their work on the offensive boards. Both players came up with multiple offensive rebounds throughout the game that gave St. Joe lots of second chance opportunities to score and run time off the clock.
"We have very good shooters on this team," said Brindle. "But we haven't always shot well in games. So the emphasis really has been that in the tournament we can't just rely on jump shots. We have got to either go to the hoop or you have to be ready to offensive rebound."
Wiggins not only crashed the boards offensively but he attacked the hoop like his coach told him. Of his team-high 17 points, he scored 10 from the free throw line, missing just one all night.
When I asked Lavante about any extra special motivation that he had for hitting the boards so hard tonight. He told me, "It's the time when we all need to come together as a team. We have to stop worrying about the refs and stop worrying about the fans. It's tournament time. Every time it's tournament time we get more focused, we play better, we run, we push it, we jump higher. I don't know what it is but at tournament time we do what we gotta do."
Senior Hank Barrett and junior Tyrell Thomas played their hearts out and did the best they could to keep their Mountie team in the game. The two scored 25 of the team's 26 first half points and finished with 34 of the team's 45 total points. Thomas had a game-high 22 points including two 3-pointers and 4-for-6 shooting from the free throw line.
The Crusaders will now move on to the semi-finals of the Division 3 Western Mass tournament at the Curry Hicks Cage on the University of Massachusetts at Amherst campus. They will face county foe, Lee in a rematch of last year's Division 3 championship. St. Joe's took down Lee in last year's final and will hope to beat them again this year to get a shot at repeating as champions. The two teams split their regular season games with both teams winning at home.