By Cary Shuman
When Gavin Mahoney hit one of the most clutch baskets in Winthrop High School basketball history, a dramatic 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, and Dino Mallios continued his heroic 34-point performance to give the Vikings a seven point lead with less than two minutes to play, Vikings fans were no doubt dreaming of spending their Tuesday afternoon at the TD Banknorth Garden watching a state championship game.
But North Cambridge Catholic (NCC) spoiled the Vikingsâ€™ plans by rallying to score the last 10 points of the game and hand Winthrop a 65-62 defeat in the Division 4 North final Sunday at Tsongas Arena in Lowell.
Mahoneyâ€™s incredible dash down the court and three-point shot had tied the game at 55-55 at the end of regulation. The Vikings carried the momentum of that momentous shot into overtime, building a 62-55 lead. But NCC sophomore guard Robinson Vilmont responded with a four-point play and a three-pointer to tie the game at 62-62.
NCC claimed a 65-62 lead on an inside basket and free throw, before Malliosâ€™ game-tying attempt just missed connection.
It was a stunning defeat for the Vikings, who had rolled through the sectionals in dominating fashion to set up a rematch with NCC in the final. Winthrop had proven its mettle by winning the Northeastern Conference South title, and its 21-5 overall record represents one of the programâ€™s finest seasons ever.
Coach David Brown fielded questions from reporters outside the Winthrop locker room after the game.
â€œThat was an exciting basketball game,â€ said Brown. â€œWe were up seven with less than two minutes to go and he [Vilmont] made big shots with somebodyâ€™s hand in his face both times,â€ said Brown.
The coach used one word to describe Mahoneyâ€™s buzzer beater that sent the game in overtime â€“ â€œTremendous,â€ said Brown. â€œTo make that shot â€“ I thought we had them at that point. But NCC is a very good basketball team. Itâ€™s been tough on us the last two years losing in the North final to these guys. But I love coaching these kids. Iâ€™m so proud of them. Theyâ€™ll get after it in the off season and, hopefully, we can get back here next year.â€
Mahoney, though emotionally drained, talked about his game-tying shot. The junior guard scored 11 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of driving scoop shots in traffic. He also handled NCCâ€™s defensive pressure well.
â€œWe knew we needed a three-pointer [at the end of regulation] and I was looking for Dino Mallios or [Robert] Swanson, but I didnâ€™t have any of them open, so I knew I just had to shoot it,â€ said Mahoney. â€œWe played well for almost the whole game, but we fell apart with about two minutes left. We had a lead, but we couldnâ€™t hold onto it. Toward the end, we couldnâ€™t execute. But North Cambridge deserved it. They didnâ€™t give up, either.â€
Junior forward Mark Jenkins began the game in awesome fashion, scoring Winthropâ€™s first seven points of the game.
North Cambridge Catholic coach Daniel Salazar was impressed by Malliosâ€™ performance. â€œDino really proved how good he is today,â€ said Salazar. â€œLast year, he had 20 against us. He was hitting shots from everywhere. We were defending to deny him and not let him catch. But heâ€™s not only catching [the basketball], but heâ€™s raining threes over us. He really helped out his team, and congratulations to him on the 1,000th point.â€
As for Mahoneyâ€™s three-pointer, Salazar said, â€œWhat an incredible shot. Gavin Mahoney played so hard. Their time will come.â€
Winthrop will lose seniors Kenny Quist, David Alzante, and Joe Wallace to graduation. In addition to the big three of Mallios, Mahoney, and Jenkins, other returning players include juniors Robert Swanson, Will Milano, Jake Connors, and Dan McNeil; and sophomores Anthony Hatzisavas and Michael Griffin.