It was a morsel of Lynn Classical basketball trivia wrapped inside a Green and Gold treasure chest of accomplishments.
Despite winning back-to-back state championships in 1993 and 1994 and six Northeastern Conference titles, the Rams had never won an outright NEC crown in head coach Tom Grassa’s 27-year reign on the bench.
But seniors Eddis Solis, Monte Wolfe, and Jordan Brown, and juniors Kyle Doucette and Philip Rogers took care of that Northeastern Conference “undisputed title” business with an exciting 62-61 victory over Salem Friday night on the Rams’ home court.
Solis led all scorers with 21 points and helped lead the Rams to the finish line with a clutch fourth-quarter performance. Solis’s best moments came on two tip-ins of missed shots. Doucette, the Rams’ ever-improving 6-foot-6-inch center, had a huge block and some key rebounds down the stretch to go along with 12 points.
Rogers, who has become one of the best players in the area, contributed 11 points to the cause.
The issue came down to a controversial call that went in Classical’s favor with 3.5 seconds left in the game. During a battle at midcourt for a loose ball, the ball appeared to be kicked out of bounds by a Classical player but the referees awarded the ball to the Rams – and the players and their jubilant fans soon after began an on-court celebration of a championship season.
Classical Principal Gene Constantino was among those congratulating the coaches and players after the game.
“I thought this was one of the most enjoyable teams to watch,” said Constantino. “They play hard together as a team. I’m really proud of them. I’ve watched a lot of their games. Eddie [Solis] stepped up tonight and on other nights, it’s been somebody else. I thought their defense was outstanding and they kept their composure. Salem is a very good team so we’re very proud of this Classical team and it’s good for the school.”
Like other observers across the city, Constantino understood that an experienced Lynn English team was considered the “team to beat” for the NEC North title.
“It’s always nice to beat English – obviously,” said Constantino. “To sweep English this year was very special. They’re good kids and they did a great job. This Classical team was underrated but if you watch them play day in and day out, they’re a very good team. And I think Philip Rogers is the best player in the Northeastern Conference.”
Grassa held court with reporters inside his office and was asked whether he felt his Rams were a championship-caliber club back in the preseason.
“To tell you the truth, I really had high hopes,” said Grassa. “I knew the league was super balanced but I knew the key was just getting the kids to play together and having someone emerge as a true leader. Some of my teams of the past had somebody – be it Tony Seaforth or Alvin Abreu – who you could really count on if you needed a steal, a rebound, or a basket.
“And I’d say in the last two weeks Phil [Rogers] has really stepped up his game and has emerged – he’s doing lots of stuff for us.”
Grassa credited Solis for his superb play against Salem. “Eddie has had back-to-back games where he has shot an outstanding percentage. Against English he shot unbelievably and he shot the ball terrific again tonight.”
Pancho Bingham, one of the all-time greats from Classical’s undefeated state championship team, sat courtside for the game and had to be impressed with the Rams’ determined performance in a true winner-take-all showdown.
Can this Classical team reach the heights that Pancho and Stu (Primus) and Sandy (McGee) did and travel where Coach Grassa and Marcos [Echevarria] and Calvin [Johnson] and Louis [Eaton] went in back-to-years?
It has been a special season so far under the leadership of Tom Grassa. The Rams will enter the Division 2 North sectional of the State Tournament with a 14-8 overall record, 12-3 in the NEC. Powerhouses like New Mission and Brighton and Belmont will stand in the way. But a second trip to the Boston Garden this season (Classical defeated GBL power Malden in the Good Sports Invitational) with the Eastern Mass. title on the line is certainly an attainable goal for the Rams.