Warriors earned a share of M.L. Freedom division title, won a state tournament game
By DAN BYRNE
WAKEFIELD — For fans of Wakefield Memorial High School boys’ basketball, the 2014-15 season was an exciting journey through the peaks and valleys that come along with playing in the Middlesex League.
With a record of 9-7 in the Middlesex League Freedom division, Wakefield earned a tri-championship and finished with a 10-10 record overall as it won one tournament game over Lynn Classical before falling to state finalist Danvers.
The team got off to a rough start losing its first two games.
After dropping to 0-2 following a road loss to Woburn and a home loss to Lexington, Wakefield had one chance to notch a win before Christmas break.
With experience and leadership, Head Coach Brad Simpson was able to turn things around the next time out and give Warriors fans at the Charbonneau Field House something to cheer about as they toppled Reading 73-52 for the first win of the season.
The Warriors played in the Golden Tornado holiday tournament at Malden High where they lost a pair of close games to Salem and Arlington Catholic.
With a new year came some better play, and on Jan. 2, the Warriors got a big win in their road visit to Watertown by a 62-56 tally. They followed that up with a 74-51 rout over Stoneham on Jan. 6 in Stoneham
On Friday, Jan. 9, the Wilmington Wildcats came into the Charbonneau Field House and took down the Warriors to send their win/loss record to 2-5.
After the Wilmington loss, Wakefield squared off against its closest rival, Melrose. After four quarters, Wakefield came out on top 62-59.
Wakefield then went on the road and took down the Burlington High Red Devils, 59-53, to move to 5-5 on the season.
A couple of tough games followed as the Warriors next opponent was an Arlington team that had yet to lose a game. The Warriors were no match for the Spy Ponders as they were handed a 72-51 loss, Wakefield’s largest margin of defeat (21 points) of the season.
Wakefield tried to turn things around the next game but they ran into a superstar player in Michael Grassey of Winchester.
After the Jan. 23 loss to the Sachems in front of the home crowd dropped the Warriors to 5-7 on the year and hopes of making the state tournament began to grow dim.
With six games left, the Warriors needed to win four in order to make the tournament. Wakefield, like everybody else, had to deal with postponements of games and practices due to the record snowfall in such a short period of time
The first test was a home matchup versus Watertown that saw the Warriors win comfortably, 59-44, to move to 6-7.
Wakefield then handled Stoneham with ease in the rematch at the Charbonneau by a 61-24 tally.
The next game of the year was one of the most exciting as the Warriors knocked off Wilmington as Chris Calnan hit crucial free-throws with no time on the clock to win the game, 49-48.
Next up was a road game at Belmont that had to be rescheduled a couple of times due to weather. The game didn’t go well for the Warriors as they lost by 10, 61-51.
A regularly scheduled game against Burlington was the very next night. It was Senior Night for the Warriors and it was their last M.L. home game of the season. Not only did Coach Simpson honor the seniors by sending out an all senior starting five but the older players responded in their final home appearance to the tune of a 32 point victory, 78-46.
It was a special night as the Warriors clinched their spot in the tournament but it was also noteworthy for another reason. What made the night really special was when senior team member Dan Rej took the floor.
“You had to be there to appreciate the significance of Dan being able to get in the game,” said Coach Simpson. “He hit the first few shots he took, one of them a three pointer and literally brought the house down. It was certainly one of the highlights of the year.”
The lasting takeaway from the Burlington victory was the team qualifying for the tournament, which is every team’s goal and by no means a small feat.
“I think that’s a big accomplishment,” Simpson said.
A non-league game against a tough Division 1 opponent in Everett ended in a loss for the Warriors but, being an exclusionary game, had no effect on their tournament seeding. The Warriors lost the game by three, 85-82, in overtime but held the lead most of the game and really showed what the kids were made of.
In their final game, the Warriors went on the road to face Melrose in a makeup on Feb. 18, where they came up short of a win, dropping the contest 52-47 and earning a share of the M.L. Freedom division championship.
The Warriors put on an impressive show, winning four out of their last six games to qualify for the postseason. The run they went on was good enough to nab a share of the M.L. Freedom Division championship with a 9-7 record, which was split three ways among Wakefield, Watertown and Melrose.
The team took the momentum it gained from its late success in the regular season as they went on the road to take on a good Lynn Classical team in the preliminary round of the Div. 2 North tournament and come out with a victory.
“Winning a game in the postseason is huge,” Simpson said.
The first round draw was unkind for the Warriors as they were rewarded for their win with a visit to undefeated Danvers. The Warriors gave the Falcons a challenge but ultimately their season would end in the first round of the tournament. Danvers went on and captured the Div. 2 state tournament and finished up the year undefeated.
“I’ve always told my teams anytime you’re playing in the postseason you’ve had an exceptional year,” Simpson said. “We played Danvers Feb. 27 so it was certainly a noteworthy year.”
The 2014-15 Warriors were led by their senior backcourt duo of Chris Calnan and Brian Dickey.
“They did pretty much everything,” Coach Simpson said, “They did the bulk of the scoring.”
The pair of co-captains led the way for the Warriors averaging 13 points per game each.
“They were the top two players in just about every statistic and they were the only two players on the team with a positive assist to turnover ratio. A lot of players at the high school level turn the ball over more than they get assists.”
At the end of the season both Calnan and Dickey were recognized by the other coaches from the Middlesex League as they were named to the All-League Team.
MJ Urbano and Neil Fitzgerald were other seniors who got in and contributed regularly throughout the year. Senior Lou Spaziani was lost for the regular season after suffering an ankle injury in practice just two weeks into the season before the team played a game. He was able to come back and play in the final game against Danvers.
For juniors, Tighe Beck and Andrew Auld were often starting alongside fellow junior Jon Miller at the forward positions. Beck led the team in rebounding while Auld’s impact was most visible on the defensive side of the ball with his height causing opposing players to have to change their shot.
Miller was the team’s main threat from long distance but he was far from simply a three-point specialist. He often displayed the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the hoop and he wasn’t shy from mixing it up on the glass.
Off the bench, Corey Imbriano and Elijah Nardone put in quality performances when they had their opportunities. But with Calnan and Dickey in front of them, they didn’t see as many minutes because of the seniors in front of them.
Imbriano impressed with his defensive ability and found his scoring touch in the game against Melrose at home.
Nardone was used a little less but he shined when he got his opportunities. His best game of the year may have been in game one at Woburn where he was able to get in at the end of the game and put some points up for the Warriors with his sweet shooting stroke.
One of the most pleasant surprises of the season had to be the performance of the sophomore team members.
Kobe Nadeau made his mark early in the season, with a 12 point fourth quarter effort in the second game of the year in a loss to Lexington. The sophomore gave the Warriors a spark and brought the game much closer than before he came in.
Zach Price ended up starting a few games after a few players went out with injury. He impressed with his shooting ability and athleticism on defense and was able to carve out a role for himself down the stretch.
Alex McKenna was consistent all year and often had his number called when Auld or Beck found themselves in foul trouble.
Overall, the 2014-15 boys’ basketball team was about togetherness and that was exemplified with the way each player was ready to play no matter what his role on the team.
“Considering this was a year with a lot of minor injuries and sickness that kept guys out for periods of time,” Simpson said, “We really made hay in the Freedom Division. This team had people contributing, maybe not game in game out but certainly throughout the season, literally 1-12.”
Coach Simpson has been in charge of WMHS boys’ basketball for the better part of three decades yet this year’s team was one of a kind.
“We had 12 guys and due to illness and injury, this is the only year I can remember where everyone played at least a small role if not a large role,” the coach said. “As a coach it’s nice when you look down the bench when someone is in foul trouble, someone gets hurt, someone’s not dressed and you have no problem you just go to the next guy and see who the next guy is. I was very comfortable playing any one of 12 guys.”
That statement will speak volumes toward the future orientation of the boys’ basketball program with the prospect of returning seven players to next year’s team who all have a good amount of varsity experience.