Classical Boys Hoop Heading to Post-Season

Qualifying for the MIAA state tournament is always cause to celebrate, but the win that put the   Classical High boys basketball team in the post season was especially sweet.

Not only did the Rams have to overcome a slow start (they went 2-6 in their first eight games), but they still hadn’t made the cut with only three games remaining and all of those games were against teams you really don’t want to be seeing if you’re in dire need of a win  – English, Salem and Gloucester.

With their backs against the wall, the Rams not only got it done, but they did it by defeating a red-hot English team, 89-80, at home on Senior Night. The win proved critical. The Rams needed 11 wins (based on a 22-game schedule) and that’s what they got, finishing the regular season 11-11 after dropping the final two games.

English had  only one loss heading into the Classical game and that was in overtime against a very tough Everett team. Oddly enough, Classical had lost to Everett a week earlier and it was that loss to the Crimson Tide that may have lit the fire that led to the win over English.

“Probably the game that really helped us turn the corner was the Everett game,” Classical coach Tom Grassa said. “About a week before we played English, we played Everett, which only had one loss at that point. The kids played out of their minds.”

Classical led Everett by eight points with about four minutes remaining, the ended up losing by a point, 73-72. Although the loss stung, Grassa said it made his players realize they can play with anyone.

“It made the kids say to themselves hey, we just lost to a very, very strong Everett team that gave English its only loss. It was a big confidence booster,” Grassa said.

What made qualifying against English even more a longshot was the fact the teams had already played each other twice. The first meeting was in the Boverini Tournament over Christmas and English won 76-66. The second was five days later in conference play. English won that one, 81-72.

“We came in (to the last English game) with triple the incentive,” Grassa said. “One, we didn’t want to get swept. Two, we were playing our last home game and it was Senior Night and three, we could potentially qualify for the tournament.”

Grassa recalled how two years ago, the shoe was on the other foot. Classical had won the first two meetings against English and then lost the third. This year Classical found itself leading the third game by 16 points late in the contest. The gap closed in a hurry, however, when the Bulldogs’ Anthony Silfa, who a game later scored his 1,000th career point,  went on an 11-0 run (three threes and a two) to bring English to within five points.

One of the things Grassa was happiest about in the English win, aside from the fact it put Classical in the tournament, was that it wasn’t one or two players carrying the scoring load. The Rams  scored 89 points (they average 67) and had six guys in double figures. Eli McConney had 20 points; Jalen Johnson (18 points); Calvin Johnson (14 points); C.J. Lights and Jakeel Brown (12 points each) and Peter Mafo (11 points).

The Rams will need everyone to step up offensively going forward because they’ve played their last seven games without senior Phil Rogers, their leading scorer and rebounder. Rogers, who played in 13 games, will not return this season due to a knee injury and eligibility issues.

“It’s not like one guy decided he was going to pick up the slack. His points have been dispersed among a bunch of people,” Grassa said.

As far as what elso needs to be done to make a decent run in the tournament, Grassa said rebounding.

“We need contributions from everyone, especially on the defensive rebounding side because we are so small,” he said. “We need it from the guard spot. They can’t be hanging 25 yards back from where the shots go up. We need five green jerseys with at least one foot in the paint.”

Last year Classical reached the Division North semifinals before losing to Mission.

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