By Cary Shuman
There are 351 cities and towns in the state and more than 300 member schools in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Each March only four teams have the honor of leaving the basketball court with the Massachusetts state championship trophy in hand.
The St. Mary’s High School boys basketball team earned the biggest and best title of all with an exciting 61-52 victory over Maynard Saturday before a large crowd at Springfield College in the city known as the birthplace of basketball.
The dynamic duo of Calvin Johnson and Jonny Mercado delivered the early offensive firepower with two three-pointers apiece in the first quarter, letting Maynard know immediately that this was a team with multiple contributors.
Johnson finished with a team-high 18 points while Mercado contributed 11 points, including four consecutive free throws in the third quarter. Mercado also wowed the large crowd with his flashy dribbling and playmaking abilities.
The late-game star was Jonathan Mola, who scored eight of his 11 points in second half as Maynard made a serious run at the Spartans.
Eighth grader Matt Cross had eight points in the first half and made his 6-foot-6-inch presence felt on the backboards and in the lane on defense. Junior guard Mike Cerulli (3 points) once again excelled on defense and delivered some crucial assists and rebounds.
And senior Joe Fama, who returned to the team after sustaining a serious leg injury a year ago, made his comeback complete by arguably hitting the biggest shot of the game a three-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to give St. Mary’s a 48-45 lead heading in to the final period.
“That was a huge three to get us the momentum heading into the fourth quarter,” said head coach Dave Brown. “We have tremendous confidence in Joe and coming back from that serious injury he had last year, he’s still not 100 percent but he’s scored double figures this year and he’s given us valuable minutes and energy and to see him hit that big shot was huge.”
Brown said his brother, assistant coach Donald Brown, made the call to hold for the last shot of the third quarter. “My brother said, ‘let’s go for one,’ considering we were tied and Joe was able to knock it down.”
Johnson (7) and Mola (5) combined for 12 fourth-quarter points while Cerulli provided the final free throw as St. Mary’s wrapped up the 2016 state championship in impressive fashion.
Mola, a transfer from KIPP Academy, said he never doubted the resiliency of his teammates in fighting off a talented Maynard contingent or the excellent leadership of the St. Mary’s coaching staff.
“Coach [Brown] told me to be more aggressive in the second half,” said Mola. “It feels great to win a state championship in my first year here. I’m super excited. My teammates are great. And I want to give a shoutout to my friends, Alexy Mateo, and Tommy Rijo, who are like my brothers.”
It was left to coach Dave Brown, a St. Mary’s alumnus, to sum up the Spartans’ journey from state title contender to state champion.
“It’s just an exciting achievement for all the players and coaches and the school,” said Brown. “I knew we had the pieces if we came together as a basketball team and I knew we were very balanced. I felt that if everyone bought in to playing their role, we could be pretty successful. Obviously to be a state champion, you have to get some luck on your side as well and we had luck and we were a very good basketball team.”