PAT HANNIGAN swishes another big 3 in front of the Red Sea on Tuesday night. The senior had 17 points and six rebounds. Two of his four 3’s helped spark Wakefield’s 12-0 run in the fourth. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

Published in the February 28, 2019


WAKEFIELD — For most of Tuesday’s Div. 2 North first round matchup, it just felt like Reading’s night.

The rubber match between the Warriors and Rockets was as good as advertised complete with an electric atmosphere at the Field House.

Of course, the stakes were much higher.

Wakefield, who had a hard time scoring for much of the first three quarters, found themselves down 49-39 with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter. It just wasn’t their night.

Here’s the ironic part as pointed out by Wakefield head coach Brad Simpson: At that point in the game, there was too much time left.

The Warriors went on a 12-0 run, sparking uncontrollable madness at the Field House and sending the Red Sea student section to the moon.

“We called a timeout with four minutes left after Aidan (Cusack) cut it to eight, we got the press organized and we had them on the run,” said Simpson who was also quick to credit the Red Sea for helping fuel the comeback. “They’ve provided strong support all season. It’s really great to look across the court and see the Red Sea like that.”

As the Warriors have learned this season, if you need a big bucket give the rock to Patrick Hannigan (17 pts, 6 reb), who hit a contested 3 to make it 49-44 with 3:30 left. As the Wakefield defense locked up the Rockets, Hannigan fired another deep one from the top of the key. Some might have called it a heat check with two minutes left; it wasn’t that exactly. Most people knew it was going in.

“Pat Hannigan was our player of the game,” said Simpson. “Four different times he hit huge 3’s just when things felt like they were slipping away.”

After another strong finish at the rim from Ryan Marcus (15 pts, 4 asst) tied the game, Cusack (13 pts, 6 Reb) fought for an offensive rebound on the next possession, got to the line and knocked down two clutch shots for a 51-49 lead.

Reading’s Patrick Conroy (7 pts) followed that up with perhaps the biggest bucket of the game, while getting fouled. In the midst of chaos from a packed house, Conroy converted on the and-one from the line and gave the Rockets a 52-51 lead.

After the Warriors couldn’t convert, they fouled and Reading missed the front end of a 1-and-1 but the Rockets made a winning play, diving on a loose ball and sending Matt Sanella (15 pts) to the line, who calmly knocked down two.

“You have to give Reading credit,” said Simpson who pointed to the collection of little things like second chance points as the difference in the game. That, and Sanella. “Sanella had maybe 10 points in each of our first two games this year, but he was their main man in this one; he played with such confidence.”

Wakefield cut the deficit back to one after Michael O’Keefe got his first bucket on a quick drive. The Warriors then fouled Jovan Nortelus with 9.5 seconds left. After he converted one of two, Wakefield advanced the ball and called a timeout. Marcus drove off the inbound pass and was sent to the floor as Reading collected the rebound. A case could have been made for a foul, but the Rockets ended up covering the ball and hitting one more free throw for the final 56-53.

Just as quickly as the Warriors got back into the game, the buzzer swiftly signaled the end of their terrific season. It was just Reading’s night.

“I told the kids after the game, unless you’re a state champion, the season is going to end in a loss. It’s almost like going 60 miles per hour then slamming on the brakes; it’s kind of like ‘ok what time is practice tomorrow?’ It’s difficult, but it’s a life lesson. Things don’t always work out the way you want but you still have to get up the next day and go.”

Simpson mostly felt bad for his seniors, who worked so hard to help the Warriors win a Freedom Division championship. First on this list was Billy O’Keefe, who was recently named the Freedom’s MVP. O’Keefe was injured on Senior Night and according to Simpson worked tirelessly to rehab his ankle with help from athletic trainer Sue Courchesne. He wasn’t going to miss this game, but it was clear the big man was gutting it out. O’Keefe still pulled down 10 rebounds and had three blocks but his versatility and explosiveness on the offensive end wasn’t the same and was certainly missed especially in the first half.

“We had a slow start as we missed four shots, you could almost call them layups,” said Simpson. “It was almost like there was too much adrenaline.”

The Warriors were certainly off at the start, their first points coming from Hannigan free throws with 3:20 left in the opening quarter. Still, a strong zone defense slowed the Rockets down. Buckets from Billy O’Keefe and Marcus, in addition to Hannigan’s first 3 made it 9-9 after one.

The scoring picked up in the second as Reading outscored Wakefield 14-13 to take a 23-22 lead into the break.

With Wakefield down 21-15 and just over two minutes to go until halftime, Marcus took over, finishing strong in the lane and then finding Jack Matuszewski on the run to cut it to 21-19. Marcus got the crowd going on an and-one to tie it, the usually stoic junior captain allowing himself a fist pump before knocking down a free throw to make it 22-21.

The third quarter belonged to the Rockets who outscored the Warriors 22-13. Sanella hit two clutch 3’s and scored eight of his 15 in the third. Danny Bekenhuis had five points in the frame including three free throws.

Altogether it was a hole that, although Wakefield proved capable of digging out of, was hard to overcome.

The success of the season makes a loss in the playoffs more difficult to swallow. It will take some time but hopefully the Warriors will see the big picture of what they accomplished this year. In addition to thanking the Red Sea, former players and fans who supported the team all season, coach Simpson was grateful to his team and most especially his seniors, Cusack, Hannigan, O’Keefe, Matuszewski and McGunigle for their hard work and dedication.

Finally, a shoutout to assistant coaches Bryan Sweeney, John Amentola, Tom Leahy and Ty O’Brien.

“They’re loyalty and commitment was palpable,” said Simpson of the entire coaching staff, all Warrior basketball alums who as they now give back to a team and community that helped shape them,are certainly great examples to the current seniors of this fact: The memories, lessons learned and character traits cultivated with Wakefield basketball will long outlive the wins and losses.