It was March Madness at its best as the Boys' Varsity Basketball team defeated Canterbury School 75-66 to win the New England Class B Tournament at Clark University on March 3.
“I'm so proud of this group for being so resilient all year. Finishing your career and season with a regional championship win doesn’t happen to that many teams in the country,” Head Coach Sean Doherty told his players after the game.
To earn their spot in the final, the Hornets had clawed back from a 14-point deficit to edge Brooks School 65-62 in a semifinal game the night before. So the question was whether the #2 seeded Hornets had enough gas left in the tank to best the top-seeded Saints.
Canterbury had already inflicted one of the only two regular season losses on the Hornets, plus they had eliminated The Hall in last year’s tournament; so there was certainly some trepidation but also a burning fire for a payback.
Both teams came out hot in the first half and traded baskets at first. Clutch shooting began to make a difference; however, and the Hornets stretched their lead to seven 43-36 at the break.
The up tempo and high scoring of the first half suited the Hornets, but the second frame became a much cagier affair. A stretch of cold shooting by the Hornets enabled the Saints to climb back to tie and eventually take a slim lead with a little over eight minutes to play. Down the stretch each possession and trip down the court increased the drama.
Every time Canterbury grabbed another lead the Hornets responded. In particular, junior Jackson Benigni seemed to take the game on his shoulders and let fly with one key three pointer after another to eventually wrestle a four-point lead back with only a few minutes to play. Canterbury was forced to start fouling but to no avail as Benigni, Tim Dawson, and Tre Breland all delivered clutch free throw points to seal the win.
Benigni was rightly named the game’s MVP, scoring 32 points, including a staggering eight treys in all. He also recorded six steals. The senior trio of Tim Dawson, Tre Breland, and Christian Adams could not have finished their high school careers in any better style. Breland seemingly was everywhere and scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Adams was a beast and also had the double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds, while the composed-yet-fiery Dawson quarterbacked the squad and added 12 points of his own. Though Jahkai Pettway and Chris Cahill do not put up comparable numbers, as always, they made key contributions at both ends of the court.
After the game Coach Sean Doherty and the “Fab Four” gave their final thoughts:
“So proud of this group for being so resilient all year. Finishing your career and season with a regional championship win doesn’t happen to that many teams in the country!” - Head Coach Sean Doherty
“From the start of the season this was the goal. We came in every day and worked harder than every team. As a senior I’m so grateful I ended my career on top!” - Christian Adams
“I can’t put into words what this meant to us. We talked about it and worked so hard since the summer to get to this point. We did everything we had to in order to win Sunday night. I can’t thank my teammates and coaches enough for a year I will never forget! Back in the gym tomorrow.” - Jackson Benigni
“When I first came to Hamden Hall this was my goal. We got knocked out by this team last year and this was the ultimate payback. I’m so happy I got to finish this out with my two brothers, Christian and Tim; I love those guys to death “ - Tre Breland
“We all did our part and that was the best way to end the season. Thank you to everyone who believed and supported us.” - Tim Dawson
For most of the season, in fact, the Hornets played essentially with only a six man rotation because of the intensity of the Fairchester League and the level of non-league competition, as well as the relative inexperience on the bench. The top four scorers were incredible in their ability to play relentless up tempo, high-pressure games with hardly a break. However, the rest of the squad of Ethan Doherty, Sam Jewett, Jeff Nugent, Brendan Palmer, Dylan Ratta, and Tony Zhou (plus a shout out to manager Cara Samson) should also be commended for their contributions, not only cheering on the team from the side during games, but also putting pressure on the starters every practice to improve.
This writer has seen some 30 years of Hornet basketball, and this was indeed one of the most notable. We have won a good many championships in Class D and C. But to be placed in Class B and win it all, finishing 25-2, is a truly remarkable achievement. Congratulations to the entire team and coaching staff. Kudos as well to all the faithful fans who not only joined The Swarm for the home contests this week, but also traveled up to Worcester with the impending storm to lend their support at the Final. A total team and school win!