The stakes were as high it gets in the regular season. A league championship was on the line as well as Lynn city bragging rights.
On one bench, you had the incredibly seasoned veteran coach Tom Sawyer, who has made Classical a perennial contender and state tournament qualifier. On the other bench was Travonne Berry-Rogers, the phenomenal English and Merrimack College basketball player who was looking to bring his alma mater a GBL crown in his first season as head coach.
Adding intrigue on the Classical bench was assistant coach Shardaye Berry, who is the sister of Travonne Berry-Rogers and a former Lady Ram standout herself.
The senior captains, Reese Brinkler and Molly Mannion of Classical, and Makenzie Acevedo and Rosie Chheang of English, were hoping to lead their respective schools to a championship during what has been a challenging couple of years due to the pandemic.
In the end, it was Chheang’s buzzer-beating basket that was the difference as English edged Classical, 51-49, to capture the 2022 Greater Boston League championship at Classical.
With 8.2 seconds left, Chheang took the inbounds pass from Acevedo and dribbled the length of the court and banked in the shot for the game-winner as the horn sounded.
Chheang, who is right-handed and a very adept dribbler, appeared to use her left hand to direct the ball off the backboard.
“We had eight seconds left, so I knew I had to go, so I took it to the rack,” said Chheang. “I was looking for the foul, but I just made the shot. It feels great to win a championship. This is my first time experiencing it. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. This is something I’ll remember forever.”
Berry-Rogers, whose team showed great composure after Classical put together a tremendous second-half comeback to take the lead, said he had confidence in Chheang’s decision to take it all the way to the basket.
“Go for the bucket, go get a basket – with 8 seconds left you trust your big-time players to make big-time plays,” said Berry-Rogers. “I trusted my captain [Chheang] all day, every day. I have the faith in her just like I would in myself if I were in that position.”
Acevedo was excellent on defense, handling the 1-on-1 assignment of covering Classical’s talented junior guard Ava Thurman (15 points).
“It was difficult – she’s a great player but I had to do what I had to do and try to stop her from getting the ball,” said Acevedo. “It feels great to win a championship. Rosie and I never actually won a championship before, and this is a really great experience for both of us and all our teammates. I love my team so much. We worked really hard this season.”
Acevedo said Coach Travonne Berry-Rogers was an excellent leader of the team who gave all the players confidence to succeed.
“He’s an amazing coach,” said Acevedo. “I really learned all of my basketball skills from him.”
English junior Matty Laurino, a terrific long-ranger shooter, connected on four 3-pointers to finish with 14 points.
Berry-Rogers, who wore a special “Mom” emblazoned tribute towel on his coaching attire in memory of his mother, the late Lynn schoolteacher Lillian Berry-Rogers, said it was a total team effort that carried the Bulldogs, who had three starters foul out.
“That’s what it comes down to,” said Berry-Rogers. “Our motto was Just Us. We had people foul out and had to go deep into our bench. But that my philosophy from Day 1 when I got the head coaching job. Every player on our team is valuable. We prepare everybody for these types of moments. We set ourselves some big-time goals. I trusted my coaching ability, my coaching staff, and my players, and it was good to get this home.”
Classical sophomore Lauren Wilson was outstanding in defeat with 11 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Lauren Hennessey hot four straight free throws at the height of Classical’s third-quarter comeback. Akiyah Brown and Reese Brinkler helped Classical control the backboards for most of the game. Delaney Dana and Molly Mannion also played well for the Rams.
“It was a great high school basketball game and great atmosphere,” said Tom Sawyer. “Players from both schools were making big plays. They just made one more shot than we did. I wish the outcome would have been different, but it is what it is. As I told the kids, we have a lot to still play for. We’re in the state tournament and have four games left and we’ll be back at practice tomorrow.”