Pope John I
Price-Espada scores 49 as the Tigers win the Div. 4 state title
By Cary Shuman
Sparked by a sensational 49-point performance by junior guard Angel Price-Espada, the Pope John XXIII High School basketball team blitzed Maynard, 89-57, to capture the Division 4 state championship Saturday at Springfield College.
The decisive victory marked the Everett school’s first state title in basketball as coach Leo Boucher and his team claimed the crown via a phenomenal 24-1 season.
Price-Espada, the 5-foot-7-inch Catholic Central League MVP and All-Scholastic, had the Pope John fans standing and cheering during one of the greatest individual offensive performances in MIAA state tournament history. He hit six consecutive 3-pointers in the second quarter as part of an extraordinary, long-range shooting showcase that gave the Tigers a 52-31 lead at the half.
Included in the Price-Espada thrill-a-second package was a mid-air, behind-the back pass to senior Michael Thompson who finished the spectacular play with a layup.
“Angel played phenomenal today,” said Boucher. “I haven’t seen a performance as great as that, not as a player in high school, not as a player in college, not as a basketball coach for 27-plus years – the closest thing I ever saw was Dana Barros versus Don Bosco 100 years ago, and I’ll date myself. That was probably the most incredible shooting performance I’ve seen in a long time.”
In addition to Espada, other members of the Pope John cast stepped up in the state final just as they done in postseason victories over Winthrop, Fenway, Austin Prep, and Mashpee.
Marquis Bouyer, senior center, scored 8 of his 17 points in the first quarter, establishing his powerful presence in the paint as Pope John led 18-11 after one period. Bouyer also finished with 11 rebounds.
Michael Thompson, a senior forward, contributed six points, following his clutch, 14-point effort that helped Pope John defeat Mashpee in the state semifinal.
Junior forward Luis Velasquez, one of the most unsung players for the Pope John contingent, scored 10 points, including a pair of baskets amidst the Tigers’ 34-point explosion in the second quarter.
Senior Mehkhi Collins, a late-game hero against Mashpee, juniors Cam Erikson and Conor Kelly, and freshman Jason Ford also contributed well for the Tigers.
Pope John led 5-0 in the opening minutes, thanks to a Price-Espada three-pointer and a Bouyer basket inside the lane. Maynard would close the gap to three, 9-6, but Bouyer’s mini-surge of five points (two off a nifty pass from Collins), and Velasquez’s basket keyed a 7-0 spurt. Price-Espada hit two of three free throws (he was 9-of-11 overall) after he was fouled attempting a three-pointer.
And then it happened. Price-Espada took over the game with a rapid succession of three-pointers, the majority hitting nothing but net. In eight, breathtaking minutes, the dynamic backcourtman scored 23 points, 31 total for the half.
Price-Espada stayed red hot in the third period and at one point, he had 41 points while the entire Maynard team combined also had 41.
Bouyer closed out the Tigers’ memorable day with seven fourth-quarter points. Rashid Griffin had a three-pointer as the Tigers rolled to an impressive 32-point victory over the defending state champions.
Boucher was asked what it was like to be able to deliver to Pope John its first-ever state championship.
“I didn’t deliver anything – the kids behind me delivered,” he responded humbly. “That’s who made the delivery. I put them in the right position for them to make that happen. It’s a real honor to be able to coach a group of kids like that. The kids came to play.”
Bruins face tough, brief road trip
With the excitement of Ryan Donato’s dynamic debut just starting to settle, the Bruins are once again, back on the road again. Their one game homestand following on the heels of a four game road trip (in seven days), shows how messed up the NHL schedule really is. For Boston it means another stretch of four games on the road in seven days. Those games will be played against four teams, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, and the Winnipeg Jets. Each of them is either attempting to gain a playoff spot, or move up in their conference standings, which means tough competition.
With the tight races currently changing many team’s positions daily, the Bruins will not have an easy game in the road trip. As the Record went to press last night (Wednesday), the Bs were hosted by St. Louis. The Blues were just three points out of a playoff spot, trailing eighth place Anaheim, with a single game in hand. The Blues have been playing .500 hockey over their last ten games, but are on a two-game win streak. Next stop will have Boston taking facing the Stars (Friday, 8:30pm), as the struggling Stars continue to fall out of a possible playoff spot, riding a two-game losing streak after posting a 2-5-3 record for their last ten contests. Sunday (7:30pm) will have the Bruins playing the Minnesota Wild. The Wild sit in the fifth spot of the Western Conference, rather precariously as the eighth spot is only four points in the rear, as they look over their shoulder, having only put up numbers good enough for a 5-4-1 record for their last ten games. Boston’s final game of their four-game road trip, will be in Winnipeg to match up against the streaking Jets on Tuesday (8:00pm), the Jets are rolling along on a three game win streak, and a hot 7-2-1 stretch for their last ten. The Bruins return to TD Garden ice on Thursday, March 29 (7:00pm) to host Atlantic Division leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Bruins’ 99 points at press time had them tied for third most in the league with the Vegas Golden Knights. Which is rather startling when one looks back over the 2017-18 season, and the unbelievable amount of injuries that the Bs have endured to many of their top players. Patrice Bergeron sustained both a lower-body-injury, and is currently out of the lineup with a fractured foot. Recently acquired Rick Nash is out with an upper-body-injury; Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is missing, also with an upper-body-injury; David Backes has missed 21 of the 71 games played thus far this season, due to medical issues that included a bout with diverticulitis and colon surgery, multiple suspensions, and most recently a leg cut that has him presently off the ice. The loss on defense of Charlie McAvoy to an MCL knee sprain had left a void on the local’s blueline, which Boston has somehow been able to manage; dependable Adam McQuaid lost time due to a broken right fibula; also on defense, Kevan Miller suffered an upper-body-injury; Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask missed some action following concussion-related problems; David Krejci missed time with an upper-body injury; defenseman Torey Krug felt the effects of a fractured jaw; Noel Acciari was the beneficiary of a fractured finger; Jake DeBrusk is currently missing action with an upper-body-injury; and rookie Anders Bjork suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
Congratulations to Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna who will be inducted into the Eastern College Athletic Conference Hall of Fame. The ECAC Hall of Fame committee announced the ceremony honoring Bertagna will take place Friday, May 4 at the Crowne Plaza in Danbury, Connecticut. Bertagna began his professional coaching career in 1985 with the Boston Bruins, remaining with the team as their goaltending coach until 1991, and rejoined the team for the 1994-95 season. Bertagna is currently in his 36th year as a college hockey administrator. This season marks his 21st year with Hockey East, after serving in a similar capacity with the ECAC for 15 years. He is the longest serving commissioner in Hockey East history and is currently the longest serving hockey commissioner in the NCAA.