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St. Bernard’s plays in semi-finals tonight

Posted By March 12, 2013 | 1:02 pm | Local
Photo by Mike O'Connell.
Tthe winning team
Photo by Mike O'Connell. Tthe winning team

 

By MIKE O’CONNELL

CFP Correspondent

FITCHBURG – It was a familiar scene Saturday afternoon at Fitchburg State University’s Recreation Center – boys basketball players in St. Bernard’s blue and gold passing around a trophy and hoisting index fingers declaring that they, indeed, were number one.

St. Bernard’s Central Catholic High School in Fitchburg clinched its second straight Central Massachusetts Division 2 championship with a 63-49 victory over Gardner. The win moves the Bernardians into the state semi-finals against South Hadley High School Tuesday at the DCU Center in Worcester.

Last year, St. Bernard’s squeaked by Quabbin Regional  in the Central Mass. final and lost to eventual champion Mahar Regional of Orange in the imagestate semi-final game. This year, they’re focused on writing a different ending.

“It’s definitely been our goal to get back here, and we did,” said Coach Mark Pierce after the game. “We didn’t do the job (in the state semi-final) last year, and a lot of guys really want to go back and finish the job.”

St. Bernard’s received contributions up and down the lineup against Gardner. Seniors John Crawley (18 points), Andrew Baron (15 points) and Justin Valliere (12 points) led the way, with Michael McGuirl (7), Brian Franciosi (5), Garrett Stephenson (4) and Brandon Weyant (2) chipping in with timely buckets. Centers Baron, Stephenson and Weyant played well in the middle, collecting rebounds and put-back lay-ups, while Crawley, Valliere, Franciosi and John Conry pressed Gardner hard and dove all over the floor, grabbing loose balls.

After the game, Crawley described the win as a “team effort” where “everybody got involved.”

“We’ve got a lot of guys who can put the ball in the hole,” he said. “When we get three or four of us going, we’re tough. When we get five or six, we’re unstoppable.”

Looking at the records and the history between the two teams, St. Bernard’s entered the game as the favorite. Second-seeded St. B’s (18-4 before Saturday’s win) had knocked off the Wildcats by 20 back in December, and 13th-seeded Gardner’s record was still below .500 (11-12 at game time), even after winning three playoff games to make the divisional final.

But this one wasn’t going to be easy. Gardner took a 15-9 lead late in the first quarter, capping an 8-0 run with a Daniel Romero 3-point play. St. Bernard’s regained the lead, 16-15, at the end of the first with inside baskets by Baron and Crawley. The score stayed close in the second quarter, with Valliere giving St. B’s a 32-30 lead with a layup closing out the half.

The Bernardians pulled away in the second half. Three-point shots that had been clanging off rims started to drop, Baron took control inside, and Franciosi’s layup late in the third quarter extended the team’s lead to 14. In the fourth, Crawley and McGuirl hit early three-pointers, and Gardner top scorers Devin Williams (13 points) and Romero (11) went cold. After Baron hit two layups, putting St. B’s up by 19 with 2:16 to play, Pierce emptied the bench and the vocal student section set the party in motion.

After the game, St. B’s players turned their attention to their next goal – a strong showing in the state final four.

“We feel like we let our seniors down last year,” said Baron. “We didn’t play our best game. We want to play for ourselves this year, but we also want to make it up to last year’s graduating seniors.”