By TYM BROWN
WAKEFIELD — The Wakefield boys’ basketball team secured a hard-fought win against rival Burlington on Tuesday. The 59-51 victory for the Warriors was the second time these teams matched up this year, the previous time being a 80-65 Red Devil win just a month prior. That loss was the beginning of a four-game losing streak, but this win was the fourth in a row for Wakefield since breaking that slide. “The only thing that was in my head was how they beat us when we were at their gym,” said Wakefield senior captain De’Ari Burton after the game. “We worked hard in practice. It took toughness and brotherhood and that’s how we got the win tonight.”
The level of toughness that the Warriors brought to the game was evident from the opening tip. Jackson Fitzpatrick was an unstoppable force in the paint to start the game, scoring 6 of Wakefield’s first 8 points from inside. The junior center began with a put-back bucket, an early showing of his dominance on the boards (13 rebounds) which was a difference maker in this game. A textbook pick-and-roll with Jack Millward would get Fitzpatrick his second basket. Burton nailed a mid-range step back to get himself going on the next possession and then found the Warrior big man cutting on the baseline the next time up the floor as Fitzpatrick finished through a foul. This put Wakefield ahead 8-2 early but Burlington had a sudden burst in them to shut down the home team’s momentum.
The Red Devils scored six straight points to tie the game, all baskets coming from senior captains Don Teguia and Cedric Rodriguez. Rodriguez had 32 points against the Warriors the first time he saw them this season and Teguia posted a career-high 21 points, so it was key for Wakefield to limit both of these players offensively. Jackson McDermott nailed a triple to stop the run as the defense vacated him at the top of the key, retaking the lead. McDermott then stepped up on defense, blocking Rodriguez at the summit as he crashed to the basket, leading to Burton drawing a foul and hitting two free throws to reward the spectacular defense from his fellow senior captain. Rodriguez went strong to the rack for a basket in response, but Burton sent his defender flying with an up-and-under move to keep the Wakefield offense flowing.Rodriguez finished at the basket again through two defenders to close the quarter with the Warriors leading by just three points.
Burton continued to work his way inside on Burlington as he started the second quarter with a lefty floater, something that has become a staple in his game this year. Rodiriguez continued to find his way to the basket as well, finishing through a foul as McDermott took a more physical approach to guarding the Red Devils’ star. On the offensive end, Fitzpatrick was taking over the boards again as he got back to back offensive rebounds and buckets, taking advantage of the physicality that Burlington lacked.
Outside shooting was also a lacking point for the visitors at the time as they went without a 3-pointer until senior Jaden Brehm hit from the corner around the midway point of the 2nd quarter. That still didn’t phase the Warriors though as Millward joined the offense, scoring his first basket of the game after starting 0-for-7 from the field. This put Wakefield up 23-17 with three minutes left in the half, but free throws from Rodriguez and a steal-and-score by Teguia cut that lead down to two in just 10 seconds. Millward would come up huge again as he hit his first 3 of the game, moving off-ball and being found wide open on the right wing by McDermott. Teguia and Burton traded a basket each which left Burlington trailing by five with a minute left in the quarter. Sophomore Matt Gray hit a 3 in the left corner, followed by a backdoor cut and basket from Jaden Brehm to tie the game as time ran out in the first half.
Burlington came into the third quarter with a lot of momentum after pulling off a last minute comeback to tie the game before the break. Rodriguez started the second half by pushing his way through the lane and getting a physical basket to fire up his bench. Burton showed some flare as he spun and faded from the hoop to bring life into the Wakefield crowd, but this would only be fuel for the Red Devils. Rodriguez drew and hit two free throws, then found Teguia on the next possession as the senior hit his first 3 of the game, much to the liking of the well-represented Burlington crowd. The Warriors turned the ball over on their way up the floor and the transition defense wasn’t prepared for Teguia to get a head of steam towards the basket as he expanded his team’s lead to five.
Burton then took matters into his own hands as he stepped into isolation, stepped back for 3 and hit to get himself back to rhythm. Burton’s handling ability was allowing him to create shots for himself all throughout this quarter and he went to work with this skill to keep the Warriors in the game as the defense couldn’t put together many solid stops. Brehm got an and-one finish but Burton was there to answer with a drive and layup of his own. Then the star guard shimmied an intense defender in Teguia off of him just enough to get off a high arcing mid-range that miraculously went through. Even Burton had to let a smile shine as the Wakefield crowd roared in disbelief that the shot went down.
The Red Devils remained unfazed though as Brehm found himself a putback basket and Rodriguez got another and-one finish, converting this time to put Burlington up 45-39 with just over a minute left in the third.
This is where Millward truly came alive. The sophomore rejuvenated himself with a cross to open a lane for a layup, then got a steal and drew a pair of free throws on his way back up the floor. Two hits from the charity stripe by Millward and one from Brehm set the deficit at three for the Warriors with the final possession of the quarter. Millward handled around a screen from Fitzpatrick to the left with five seconds left, trailed back to his right as the defender pressed and stepped behind the arc, hitting all nylon to tie the game at the sound of the buzzer. An absolute frenzy ensued in the Charbonneau Field House as Millward was embraced by the Wakefield bench.
That spectacular end to the third led to a fiery start in the fourth quarter from the Warriors with McDermott hitting a triple from the left corner as the defense left him in peace to drain it. With the crowd loud once again, Teguia handled down the court after the go-ahead shot by McDermott and got called on a carrying violation, an unaffordable turnover for the Red Devils. Millward made sure this possession paid off as he followed a missed 3 with an easy layup as no one on Burlington bothered to pursue the glass. This gave the Warriors their first two-possession lead since just before halftime.
McDermott tagged on another pair of points to the lead as he drove straight on to the hoop, going through his defender for a tough layup. Just when it seemed like they were falling behind, Burlington pulled back in with the second 3 of the game from Gray as the Warriors forgot about the big man’s spacing ability. Wakefield had trouble executing offensively in the coming moments, but not nearly as tough of a time as Burlington had. The Red Devils turned the ball over three times in four possessions, all self-induced mistakes such as a carry followed by a travel from Rodriguez. The only possessions to not end in a turnover for the visiting team in this stretch was a pair of missed free throws that seemed to deflate the team more than it already had been.
After all these mistakes accumulated, the Warriors were able to put together a play on offense to seal the game as Burton called for a screen from Fitzpatrick from the top of the key but Fitzpatrick slipped the screen and faded behind the Burlington defense as Burton zipped a pass to him in the paint to put the game truly out of reach for the opponent.
The Red Devils attempted to foul and hope for miraculous free throw misses from the Warriors but Millward hit four straight from the line to end it.
Burton and McDermott had one of their best performances of the season in this win and Wakefield head coach Colin Halpin took notice.
“Gotta respect the work ethic of our captains, these two guys (Burton and McDermott) bring it every day,” said Halpin. “Couldn’t be more proud of how these guys are turning into leaders.”
McDermott was excited for the win, knowing he helped lead his team to victory against a tough opponent.
“They’re a great team, but we’re better,” the senior forward said. “We can’t let them come in here and take the title.”
Winning this game prevented Burlington from capturing the Middlesex League Freedom Division title and kept Wakefield in the running. Burlington moved to 11-4 in league play with a win over Wilmington on Friday night while Wakefield fell to 9-5 with a 63-49 loss to Watertown. Wakefield’s win over Burlington punched their ticket to the Div. 2 state tournament with their 10th win, guaranteeing a record of at least .500 as they stand at 10-6 with four games remaining. Wakefield is currently ranked No. 34 in the MIAA Power Rankings. The Warriors are scheduled to host Wilmington (3-13) tomorrow night at 7 p.m. The Wildcats won the first matchup on Jan. 26, 47-37.