THE SENIORS of the 2021-22 Wakefield High boys’ basketball team were honored before their victory over Wilmington on Friday night at the Charbonneau Field House. Pictured in the front row from left to right is Jeff DiFazio, Andrew Quinn and Donovan Foley. In the back row from left is assistant coach Tom Leahy, Matt Sellers, Mardin Minasian, Owen Michaud, Sean Russell and head coach Colin Halpin. (Brian Cusack Photo)

By RYAN MARSH

WAKEFIELD — On Friday night, the Wakefield boys’ basketball team hosted the Wilmington Wildcats on the eve of the biggest blizzard of 2022. Although snow was expected the next day, the Warriors let it rain on Friday as they beat the Wildcats 65-48.

The win came as the team celebrated senior night, honoring seniors Owen Michaud, Sean Russell, Mardin Minasian, Matt Sellers, Donovan Foley, captain Andrew Quinn and captain Jeff DiFazio.

The seven seniors were honored with their parents in pre-game ceremonies, to commemorate the hard work they put in over their four years in the program.

“What the seniors do for our team doesn’t show up in the stats or box score,” said head coach Colin Halpin. “They make us better with their hard work in practice and their leadership.”

As the ceremonies concluded and the game began, DiFazio (13 points), Quinn, Sellers (8 points), Michaud and Russell (8 points) started on the floor for the Warriors. Junior Mike Wilkinson had a career-high 28 points off the bench, the most by a Warrior this season.

Needing to set the tone with the loud cheers of the fans behind them, the starters were handed a big job.

The Warriors got on the scoreboard first after a Wilmington turnover led to a bucket by Sellers. Wakefield called a timeout quickly into the game, up to two points. The Wildcats came out firing after the timeout, pulling ahead 6-2 before Wilkinson made a layup. Sophomore De’Ari Burton (6 points) made a big layup to help keep the game close.

As Wilmington held a five-point lead, Wilkinson continued to fight by knocking down a basket, making the game one possession. Russell made a hard layup with three seconds left in the quarter. The game entered the second quarter with the Wildcats leading 14-13.

Wakefield began the next quarter on fire, with the defense getting back-to-back steals leading to back-to-back Wilkinson layups to take a 17-14 lead. Wilmington answered with a basket, but Wilkinson displayed the team’s heart by drilling a 3-pointer to push ahead by four.

As Wakefield continued to score with big shots from DiFazio and Russell, they held a nine-point lead, up 29-20. The Wildcats fought back, tying the game at 29 before DiFazio hit a 3 to go ahead 32-29. Down by three, Wilmington shot and nailed a buzzer-beating 3 to tie the game at 32 entering halftime.

Whatever coach Halpin told the team at halftime, definitely worked. The Warriors came out firing, with DiFazio breaking the tie early on a free throw to go up by one. As Wilmington answered to go ahead, Sellers drilled a 3-pointer to go up by two. For the rest of the game, Wakefield never gave up the lead again.

Wilkinson dominated for the Warriors as they went on a 10-2 run from 5:36 to 2:02 remaining in the quarter, all scored by him. Wakefield held a 46-36 lead late in the third quarter, a big change from the first two quarters. Russell made a layup to go up by 12, followed by a DiFazio buzzer-beater jump shot.

The quarter ended with Wakefield leading 50-38. The Warriors started the fourth quarter with the same intensity as the third, with Wilkinson getting four quick points to start. Now leading 54-42 with 5:08 left, Sellers swished a corner 3 to extend Wakefield’s lead. Quinn followed that up with two free throws.

As the game ticked down past a minute, DiFazio, Margolis and Wilkinson all added onto the scoreboard with mid-range jump shots. The final buzzer rang loud as the Warriors controlled the second half to a final score of 65-48.

The big win for the Warriors advances them to a record of 7-6. With their eyes still set on the tournament, they only need three wins over their next seven games to punch their ticket.

At 6-6 in league play, Wakefield is tied for 3rd in the Freedom Division with Melrose (6-6) trailing Burlington (9-3) and Watertown (7-4). Wakefield was ranked No. 31 in the MIAA’s latest Div. 2 power rankings.  

“We’ve got the Blizzard of ‘22 coming up,” coach Halpin said. “And if we can’t practice this weekend, well like our captains always say, we’ve got to control what we can control and we will be ready.”

The Warriors have a big week ahead of them, traveling to rival Melrose tonight at 4:45 p.m. before heading to Stoneham on Friday at 6 p.m.