1st round win pits Melrose against Belmont on Friday
Published in the March 2, 2018 edition
By JENNIFER GENTILE
BOXFORD — It was an overtime thriller for the Melrose Red Raider basketball team, who prevailed in a 58-53 slugfest against #5 seed Masconomet (15-6) in the opening round of the D2 North playoffs. Melrose’s Joe Stanton led with a game-high 21 points—including five three-pointers— while Red Raider Anthony Colozzo nailed a game-winning trey to help Melrose (12-9 and #12 seed) advance to quarter finals against #4 Belmont on the road this Friday night at 7:00 p.m. at Belmont High.
Melrose’s victory came down to a gripping, final minute in overtime with both teams locked at 51-51, straight off a three pointer by Masco’s Will Schena. A steal and layup by the Chieftain’s Colby Jacques soon gave Masco an advantage of 53-51 but with less than a minute on the clock, Melrose’s Anthony Colozzo (11 pts) made the shot of his season with a three-point drill to give Melrose the 54-53 edge. That was followed by two flawless, foul line baskets by Melrose’s Chris Cusolito and Joe Stanton to ultimately secure a 58-53 final score.
After the game, Melrose coach Mike Kasprzak credited his team for the effort. “We’ve been a bit inconsistent this year, which I suppose can make us hard for other teams to prepare for. But defensively, we know we’re going to show up. Masco has scored in the high 70s all year so keeping them low was important.”
The result was one of Melrose’s most exciting playoff games in years: a showcase of three-pointers between Masco’s Will Schena (14 points) and Melrose’s Joe Stanton, who increased his single-season record in treys to 54, six against Masco, which puts him on cusp of breaking the school career record of 72 (held by Rob Lagrega) with 68. “Joe’s been doing this all year, putting numbers on the board,” says Kasprzak.
Masco’s Schena also lobbed four three-pointers before Red Raider defense held him scoreless in the third and fourth quarters. The difference in the game was Melrose’s second half defense and their cool head on the foul line. Melrose was sent to the line eight times between the fourth and overtime period, and their steel nerves made all the difference down the stretch. Still, the Chieftains proved an athletic team with a size advantage, and most of the work in the first half was done by senior Will Schena (14 points), who helped Masco take a 8-1 lead to open things up. Melrose’s Stanton began his trey game, aided with baskets from Luka Vlajkovic (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Chris Cusolito (9 pts; 5-5 on foul line) which helped Melrose tie it up 11-11 at the end of the first.
Melrose fell to a 18-13 disadvantage in the opening minutes of the second, with Schena hitting more treys, along with baskets from Masco’s Colby Jacques. On the foul line, Melrose’s Chris Cusolito and Mike Fennell were flawless, with Fennell bringing an enormous spark to the floor and a basket that gave Melrose their first lead of the game, 21-20. A Stanton three-pointer gave Melrose a key 26-24 advantage at the half.
The two teams returned from the half and launched a furious back and forth bid, with ties at 31, 36 and 40 and Stanton shooting for eight points in the quarter. By the fourth, Melrose’s defense came up huge, led by senior Frantz Pierrot, whose rebound game helped thwart offense. Melrose overall, held the Chieftains to two points in the first five minutes of the quarter, which tipped the balance of the game in their favor. The Red Raiders were sent to the foul line four times and kept the edge over Masco. But with a minute left in the quarter, Masco’s Jacques shot a layup that made it a 48-46 game, then he tied it up with another layup with 19 seconds to go, thrilling the home crowd and sending the teams into overtime. The rest, as they said, was history.
After the game, Melrose coach Mike Kasprzak spoke of the defensive effort of the team. “We did well on the foul line. We missed some of them early tonight but when it mattered we concentrated on them. I’m proud of them for that.”
Melrose senior Joe Stanton spoke of the importance of shutting down Masco’s standout Will Schenna. “Our defense did the job. We played tough teams this season and are a defense-first team,” he said. “We just grinded it out. We were confident and took our time on the free throw line.”
In the final run of the game, Melrose knew they needed a few big moments to cross the finish line. Said Kasprzak, “We were getting some looks and missed a few. We just said someone has to step up and make big shot and three guys did.”
Not surprisingly, it ended in a collaborative fashion for Melrose. Says the coach, “This is a team that has no super stars, but they believe in each other.”