THE MELROSE High boy’s lacrosse team was slated to play Wakefield on the road this week in their Div. 2 playoff opener. (photo by Raj Das www.edphotos.com)

 


Melrose to face Wakefield (again) in D2 opener

 

 

By JENNIFER GENTILE

MELROSE—How can we miss them if they won’t go away?

The Melrose High boy’s lacrosse team will once again be playing their neighbors-to-the-north, Wakefield, this time in the opening round of the Div. 2 Tournament on Thursday, July 9 at Landrigan Field at Wakefield High (post deadline). It’s an all-too-familiar rivalry—for playoffs, anyhow. Melrose has played the Warriors four times already since last spring. Two games were scheduled in the Freedom League last year (Melrose won each) and Wakefield was Melrose’s opponent in the first-ever Middlesex League tournament (which Wakefield won). Add another regular-season game this spring (which went Wakefield’s way, a 9-8 overtime heartbreaker) and consider this game this week the official tie breaker.

Make no mistake. Melrose has a large amount of respect for the Wakefield program, and when these teams play they always battle to a close finish, so this Div. 2 opener will be must-see viewing. For #17 seed Melrose (11-7), the pairing may have prompted a few groans. Because after all the point of eliminating North Sectional play into a state wide division was to expand early competition, not double down on local ones. But for Melrose, it is what it is.

“There are some variables being used that reward point differential, and you’ll see teams running up scores in the 20s and even 30s to secure a higher seeding,” says Melrose head coach Matt James about statewide teams, not Wakefield. “That’s what we are seeing here in the overall pairings, and it’s not good for high school athletics.”

Melrose’s strength of schedule was incredibly high, but with an overall record of 11-7, it only secured a #17 seeding, lower than Wakefield. If it all seems confusing, it is. Melrose won the league outright this year with a 9-2 record but still secured a lower seed than the Warriors. That explains the oddball pairing despite being in a Div. 2 bracket of 40 teams.

The winner of this game will advance to play #1 seed Longmeadow, hardly a cakewalk. Notes James, “But that could be a great game. Fun.”

While the opportunity to play a #1 seed is desirable in terms of competitive exposure, Melrose is used to securing some early round games, normally at home. Now, they’ll have to get past an always-tough Warrior squad to get there. Says James, “They’re a very good program. We’re obviously familiar with them. They have elite face off play and an elite goalie.”

And Melrose’s advantage? Growth.

“Some of our younger starters are so much more advanced now and are playing really well with the upperclass starters,” he says. “They’re maturing and definitely making less mental errors. ”

He points to the work of his stalwarts, such as senior captains Liam Maher and Shea Fogarty who have been proven critical in recent days. So too has been the work of junior Steven Fogarty, a recent Boston Globe Player of the Week.

Says the coach, “Steven [Fogarty] is bringing such skill in all phases of the game. Also, Brady Pitcher has been great on the attack along with Quinn Haggerty.” And he credits his goalie Michael Fuccione for his work all season. “He has really stepped up.”

Fans can expect the usual unpredictable, hard-fought and gritty action between Melrose and Wakefield this Thursday (post deadline) on the road. The winner will play the winner of Longmeadow and West Springfield, presumably on the road. Fans are encouraged to visit our social media pages for up to date playoff information, or visit the MIAA webpage at www.miaa.net.