Coach Johnson reflects on successful and meaningful season

Published June 30, 2021


READING — For three quarters, the Wakefield High boys’ lacrosse team was nearly even with undefeated and Middlesex League champion Reading in the Div. 2 North Final at Reading High on June 25. 

The Rockets took complete control in the second quarter when they outscored the Warriors 7-1 to take a 9-3 lead into halftime. The combined score for the rest of the three quarters was 6-5 Reading as they took home a North sectional trophy by a score of 13-6.

MAXX BRENNAN was ready to rip on Friday in the Div. 2 North Finals. The senior led the Warriors with three goals. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

“We kept it really competitive for the most part but we stumbled in the second quarter with some defensive breakdowns and unlucky bounces and you just can’t have that happen against the top teams in the state. They made us pay for it,” said Wakefield head coach Tim Johnson. “The box score shows a much closer game than the scoreboard did at the end but you need to play 48 nearly mistake-free minutes of lacrosse to beat a top team like Reading. They had an undefeated  season, league MVP (senior Matt Blasi) and Coach of the Year (Charlie Hardy). That’s a lot to stand up against.”

Senior Maxx Brennan led the Wakefield scoring with three goals followed by two from sophomore Lucas Kehoe and one from junior captain Jake Dubiel. 

The game was was tied 2-2 after one quarter.

The Rockets scored just 42 seconds into the game but Wakefield settled in thanks in large part to some good work on defense by senior long poles Michael and Matthew Petitto who helped settle the defense in for the rest of the quarter and give the attack some looks. Senior captain Max DiMella hit the post and the Reading goalie made a great stop on a Dubiel shot but the Warrior defense continued to hold strong in front of a great crowd at the Reading football stadium. 

Dubiel finally broke through scoring with 2:48 left in the frame on a physical dodge, fighting through contact to the helmet to finish. The Warriors took a 2-1 lead on Brennan’s first tally. Senior Oliver Miller picked up the assist, getting free behind the net and looking for a cutting senior Brogan Chambers out front. The ball found it’s way to the far post where Brennan was waiting to scoop and score.

THE PETITTO BROTHERS, Matthew (14) and Michael (7) played hard in leading the defense on Friday in the Div. 2 North Final in Reading. Known as “Tito 1” and “Tito 2” as freshmen playing on varsity in the 2018 season, the brothers will move on to play D1 lacrosse with Matthew off to UMass Amherst and Michael headed to Sacred Heart. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

A quick strike from Reading with 25 seconds left in the first tied it at 2-2.

The Rockets went to another planet early in the second, scoring 33 seconds in and their incredibly efficient attack closed just as emphatically with four goals in the final five minutes. 

Brennan scored Wakefield’s only goal of the quarter on a long range bomb off a dish from Chambers to make it 5-3, forcing a timeout. Reading scored just seconds out of that to take back momentum.

To Wakefield’s credit, they didn’t let a difficult quarter determine how they would play the rest of the game. The defense stepped up in the third as the Rockets won the quarter by a 2-1 score and the two teams were even in the fourth with a 2-2 score. 

That second half effort was a huge improvement from when the two teams met in the Middlesex League Tournament championship which Reading won 16-4. The Rockets shut out the Warriors in the second half of that game.

CAPTAIN MAX DIMELLA (2), Oliver Miller (4) and the rest of the seniors on the boys’ lacrosse team helped continue to build up the Wakefield lacrosse program over the last four years. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

“Heading back to Reading for the D2N championship game was so amazing as a head coach,” said Johnson. “I know we were all really excited to get another chance to play a fantastic team like Reading. It really sets the bar to see how you compare to the best the Middlesex League had to offer this year.”

It was the second North sectional championship game appearance in program history for Wakefield lacrosse.

“What a season,” said Johnson. “The tournament run was really an amazing thing to be a part of. I think we were peaking at the right time and playing a difficult end of season schedule (Melrose, Melrose, Lexington, Melrose, Reading) heading into the state tournament really prepared us both mentally and physically for what was ahead.”

The No. 5 Warriors cruised past No. 12 North Reading 13-4 in the first round. They beat No. 4 Danvers 14-6 in the quarterfinals.

“The North Reading game really gave us the chance to work on some things and get a lot of guys into a state tournament game so they could feel the atmosphere,” said Johnson. “The Danvers game was a bit tricky because you never know what to expect when you cross over to other leagues and playing a four seed away that has had a very successful season at 11-3. We scouted them pretty well but they still made us work for that win.”

That set up one of the greatest games in recent Wakefield sports history as the Warriors held on for an epic 10-9 victory over Billerica in the semifinals in front of the Red Sea and the hometown fans at Landrigan Field.

“Playing Billerica in the D2N semifinal game was really the opportunity to see how this team would perform against a proven powerhouse with a lot of deep tournament experiences and success,” said Johnson. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team for playing with true determination and toughness against a notoriously tough, gritty and talented Billerica program. So many of our players really rose to the occasion and accepted every challenge thrown at them that day.”

Johnson was quick to credit his captains: senior Max DiMella and junior Jake Dubiel who helped lead the Warriors through a difficult transition with no season last spring and through a memorable one this year. 

“When I think back to last fall and starting to think about an upcoming season I had no idea where we would end up,” said Johnson. “We had no captains due to the loss of the previous season to COVID. I spoke with coach Delano and at that time we decided that it was best that we name two captains so we had time to build towards a hopeful season with some sense of normalcy. We named Max DiMella and Jake Dubiel because we both felt they epitomized what we wanted for leadership both on and off the field. They both work extremely hard to get their game to the highest level possible and that proved true as the season went on.

“Max finished as our top offensive player with 61 goals and 35 assists for 96 points in a shortened 17-game season. Jake finished with 34 goals and eight assists for 42 points and also had a 75 percent win rate on faceoffs. They are exactly everything a coach could ask for from captains.”

Wakefield will return some talented players along with Dubiel for next year but the current seniors will leave behind an unmatched legacy. DiMella, Matthew Petitto, Michael Petitto, Brennan, Miller, Chambers, Malcolm Burns, Tino Rossetti and Eric Keefe brought Wakefield lacrosse back to a place they hadn’t been in four years and worked hard to make sure the program would continue to have success in seasons to come. 

“The seniors this year were just an amazing bunch of young men,” said Johnson. “Every single one of them contributed so much to this team from scoring goals when we needed them to digging out that must have ground ball to making incredible clears that typically resulted in fast break goals.

“I’ve known them all throughout their time in the boys’ lacrosse program both as the JV coach and the varsity coach and seeing them progress and mature within the game and themselves is something I’ll always cherish and remember. They’ve forever stamped their names into the history of this program leading us to the D2N final for only the second time in program history. “They are true Warriors and they’ll all be tremendously missed.”