Published February 15, 2019
By JENNIFER GENTILE
MELROSE —In true, Melrose-Wakefield style, a barn-burning thriller took place last Friday night in Melrose between the Red Raider boy’s hoop team and the Wakefield Warriors that ended in a crushing 49-45 defeat for Melrose. The playoff-bound Red Raiders remains 9-7 overall, while Wakefield walked out of the Melrose Middle School gym officially earning the 2019 Middlesex Freedom Title.
It was a stellar defensive game between two teams capable of piling on offensive points. Melrose freshman Holden Symonds scored a game-high 19 points while Warrior Billy O’Keefe was a pest, with 15 of his points in the second half, including four that clinched the game. Melrose’s Luka Vlajkovic was a defensive force, with countless blocks and steals, which limited the high scoring Warriors and kept the game less than a 3-5 point contest most of the night.
Melrose had held a 37-36 lead at the end of the third and in the late stage of the game, Jay Tucci’s trey gave Melrose a critical 44-43 advantage with just over a minute left. But Melrose was forced to the foul line late and often and only converted on one basket, while Wakefield’s O’Keefe finished the job, 49-45.
Melrose had been up 13-10 after the first quarter thanks to baskets from Holden Symonds and Chris Cusolito. But Wakefield’s Pat Hannigan hit back to back threes that lifted them up 16-13. Melrose dug back with work from Luke Pashoian (5 pts), Jay Tucci, and Holden Symonds who had five, late quarter points that made it a 24-18 game, Melrose, at the half. Symonds and Vlajkovic tore it up in the third, helping Melrose take a lead of 28-18 and forcing Wakefield coach Brad Simpson to re-strategize. The Warriors then went on an 18 point run, forcing Melrose to fight for every possession but the Red Raiders hung in thanks to baskets from Marino Preziosa and Vlajkovic.
Melrose clung to a 37-36 lead before Wakefield’s O’Keefe and Hannigan turned it up and led the Warriors to victory.
With playoffs on the horizon, Melrose is preparing now for their regular season finale against Wilmington on Thursday (post deadline), an event that marks Senior Night for the team’s graduating seniors: Harry Kelley, Luke Pashoian, Marino Preziosa, and Captain Jay Tucci.
Playoff brackets are expected to be released on Feb. 22.
Middlesex Freedom League Standings
Wakefield 10-4 11-5
Burlington 8-6 9-9
Melrose 7-7 9-7
Watertown 6-8 10-8
Wilmington 1-13 4-13
Stoneham 1-13 3-13