Pope John advances to North semifinals
Bouyer, Price-Espada lead Tigers past Winthrop, 63-59, in overtime
By Cary Shuman
When the MIAA released the pairings for the Division 4 North sectionals, Pope John boys basketball coach Leo Boucher knew his team would be tested in its tournament opener.
Though No. 1 seed Pope John had defeated No. 9 seed Winthrop twice during the regular season, Boucher felt the visiting Vikings were one of the best teams in Division 4.
Winthrop took Pope John into overtime, but the combination of clutch free-throw shooting and key rebounding helped the Tigers emerge with an exciting 63-59 victory.
Junior guard Angel Price-Espada, the Catholic Central League MVP, swished two free-throws in the final seconds of overtime to seal the victory. It was a doubly memorable night for Price-Espada, who scored his 1000th career point in the victory. The 5-foot-7-inch guard finished with 15 points and now has 1,005 career points after scoring 438 as in his sophomore year at St. Clement School.
“It feels good to accomplish that but we’re all focusing on winning basketball games and advancing in the tournament,” said Price-Espada.
Senior captain Marques Bouyer was immense on the board with 20 rebounds and 12 points including one in the final minute on a missed free throw that allowed the Tigers to retain possession of the basketball and force Winthrop into sending the Tigers back to the free throw line.
Senior captain Michael Thompson, who was being scouted by Emmanuel College at the game, had a team-high 16 points. Mekkhi Collins was also a standout in the victory while junior Cam Erickson continued his season-long accuracy from downtown with some key baskets. Luis Velasquez also played well in a reserve role.
Boucher, whose team improved to 20-1, said that Winthrop (9-12) gave his team the tough test it had expected.
“I think Winthrop is as good a team as we’ll face in Division 4,” said Boucher. “They’re very well-coached [by Pope John alumnus David Sacco] and they have a ton of talent. David and I go back a long way and we’re good friends. I knew it would be a competitive game.”
Pope John was set to play No. 4 seed Fenway High School (13-5) Tuesday night in the North semifinal. A win would send the Tigers in to the North final against No. 2 seed Austin Prep (17-4) Friday night at Tewksbury High School.
Bruins Beat by Bob Morello
BRUINS ACHES AND GAINS
First the bad news: Bruins rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy has been diagnosed with a sprain of his left MCL, suffered in the first shift/period of Boston’s 2-1 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens last Saturday. Fans will have to wait four weeks before McAvoy will be re-evaluated and a decision made. A ray of hope followed via coach Bruce Cassidy’s comments, which included – “Could have been worse obviously, but we have lots of depth and he will be back. I can’t tell you exactly when. Hopefully he heals quick and keeps his conditioning up.” McAvoy’s injury opens the door for newly acquired Nick Holden to continue to fill in on defense and show his capabilities, plus giving Matt Grzelcyk the opportunity to step back in the lineup and help out to eat up some minutes on defense after being scratched the last two games, along with the return of Kevan Miller. Being blessed with the luxury of having eight NHL-ready defensemen on his roster, does make Cassidy’s job a bit less strenuous.
Thinking long-term, the plan would be to have McAvoy back in the lineup before the start of the playoffs, giving him some time to regain his timing. The role of jumping right into the playoffs should be an easy task for McAvoy, remembering how he was thrown into the fire last season when he came on board with the Bruins, and stepped directly into playoff mode. Plusses are, the current position of the team in the Conference/Division standings, where the Bruins can afford to use McAvoy in timely, not pressured situations. Another positive to look at would be that upon his return, McAvoy will be well rested following four weeks rehab, as the NHL schedule is less forgiving than his college schedule was, and hopefully leaving him more energized for the playoffs. Patrice Bergeron is nearing the end of his scheduled two-week evaluation mark of his fractured right foot, and a decision should be forthcoming.
On the ice, Brad Marchand continues on a tear, despite the absence of Bergeron from the lineup. He was the hero with his overtime goal to produce the 2-1 victory over Montreal on Saturday, and for those who might have missed seeing that game, Marchand duplicated the feat by scoring the winner in Tuesday’s, 6-5 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings. The latter overtime winner was his eleventh regular season overtime goal of his career, moving him past former Bruins Dit Clapper and Glen Murray with the most in franchise history. ‘The Little Ball of Hate” had himself quite a night against the Wings, finishing up with his third career hat trick, upping his total to a team leading 28 goals, to go along with 38 assists and 66 points to lead in that department.
The loss of Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask due to an undisclosed minor injury for the last two games had been an area of concern, but Anton Khudobin has done the job well. Word is that Rask is skating, feeling better, and will likely be between the pipes for Thursday night’s game with the Philadelphia Flyers, or the back-to-back, home-and-home series with the Chicago Blackhawks. The remaining 17 Bruins games will be played in a span of 30 days, with never more than a day off in between.
Boston’s schedule continues tonight (Thursday 7 p.m.) hosting the streaking Flyers (6-2-2 last 10 games), and they end their six-game homestand with the first game of their home-and-home series with Chicago at 1 p.m. on Garden ice, before heading to non-playoff bound Chicago for a Sunday matinee at 12:30 p.m. The ‘Windy City’ stop is the start of a four-game road trip that will also include stops at Carolina (Tuesday 7 p.m.) to take on the Hurricanes, and on Thursday (7:30 p.m.) they face the red-hot Florida Panthers as the latter two games are teams still fighting for a playoff spot.