Sports 03-21-2017

His Rightful Place: Lee wins hard-earned and well-deserved state title

By Cary Shuman

Mark Lee was coaching his 700th game behind the St. Mary’s bench Sunday night at the TD Garden.

It’s a sterling career that began 31 years ago, one not measured by the substantial winning percentage but by the lasting impression he leaves on his players who come through the highly successful St. Mary’s program.

“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” was the phrase players such as senior stars Michael Zampanti, Andrew LoRusso, and Dante Maribito, and rising sophomore Nicky Napolitano all echoed separately after the game about Mark Lee.

The players’ heartfelt tribute is just what Mark Lee wants to hear because his career has always been “about the players.”

Director of athletics Jeff Newhall knows that the St. Mary’s players are learning from the best and that is hockey knowledge and life’s lessons.

“We’ve been so fortunate to have an esteemed coach and mentor like Mark Lee at the helm of our boys hockey program all these years,” said Newhall, who won two state titles himself as the school’s girls basketball coach. “Mark Lee gives a 100 percent commitment of dedication to his position and the players respond by working just as hard he does in the offseason, in practice, and during games. I congratulate coach Lee, his staff, and the players for bringing the state championship trophy back to our school.”

In the quiet of the interview area of the TD Garden after St. Mary’s claimed the Division 1 state championship, Lee talked about the significance of the team’s achievement.

“I’m just happy for so many of the players from all the years that have worked hard and never had the opportunity to get it and now they do,” said Lee. “I’m just very proud of the kids because it’s all about them – they accomplished something that we’ve been trying to do for many, many years.”

There had been close calls along the way. There was the heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Franklin in last year’s state final. There was the double-overtime classic against Gloucester in which defenseman Patrick Reddy made a spectacular, diving block of a shot that longtime St. Mary’s fans vividly remember to this day.

“I remember that game well,” said Lee. “We had to start that game late because the line for tickets was out and around the building. It was standing room only in a huge arena.”

Lee said it was great to see St. Mary’s alumnus and school trustee Mike Reddy, father of the late Patrick Reddy, at the state championship game.

“He’s a very big part of this program, so supportive,” said Lee. “I’m so happy for him. He had Patrick’s skate laces with him on Sunday. He was carrying them around for good luck.”

Perhaps Mark Lee will talk about his own stellar contributions to the program and this incredible season at the team’s upcoming banquet at Spinelli’s.

We know Mark Lee will thank the school administration for their support and he’ll thank his proud parents, David and Irene Lee, for being there every step of the journey, including Sunday’s crowning moment at the Garden.

But maybe, just maybe, Mark Lee will talk about himself and how he and his incredible staff of assistant coaches were able to motivate their players and lead them back to the Garden for a second shot at winning a state championship.

It will be the most anticipated moment of the evening when Mark Lee steps to the podium for his remarks reflecting on the greatest hockey season in school history.

St. Mary’s falls to Maynard in state championship game

By Cary Shuman

After a stirring comeback victory over Cathedral in the state semifinals, the St. Mary’s High School boys basketball team fell short in its bid for a second consecutive Division 4 state title, losing to Maynard, 62-42, Saturday at Blake Arena on the campus of Springfield College.

The superb offensive game that Jalen Echevarria, Johnny Mercado, Stephen Fama, Jonathan Mola and Mike Cerulli provided against Cathedral was simply not present against the Central Mass. champion Maynard Tigers.

Maynard employed a successful 3-2 zone defense that forced St. Mary’s to set up its offense farther away from the basket than usual.

“We just have so much respect for their shooters,” said Maynard coach Paul Howes.

Mercado, who had a superb four-year career that included a state championship and a state final, led St. Mary with 13 points. Echevarria, who was immense in the win over Cathedral and looms as one of the premier guards in the area next year, had 11 points.

Cerulli, known as the Spartans’ premier defender in the backcourt, said his four years were “a great experience.”

“Thanks to coach Brown, I know defense now like the back of my hand,” said Cerulli. “I’ll miss playing basketball here.”

Mercado said he’ll treasure his high school basketball experience forever.

“I’m definitely going to miss coach Brown, who was truly a father figure to me. It hurts seeing him with the disappointment on his face.”

Mola, who was standing close by during the interview, assured his teammate, “Coach Brown knew we gave it all we had. He understands. I feel he’s proud of us. Working with the other players was an honor.”

David Brown, who reaffirmed his greatness as a coach with another appearance (one state title at Winthrop) in the state finals, credited Maynard for its victory.

“They played a great game,” said Brown. “They didn’t give us any second-chance opportunities on top of the fact that they were defending our three-pointers very well.

“I told the kids there is no reason to hang their heads. No one expected us to be here playing on the last Saturday of the season after all the adversity that we went through.”

Brown praised Mercado, Cerulli, and Mola for their senior leadership.

“The seniors were great guys who had a tremendous run with a state championship, a state final, and a North final,” said Brown. “They’re disappointed in tonight’s result, but their careers speak for themselves. These seniors set the foundation for our success and the program moving forward.”


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