The Winthrop High boys basketball team parlayed a strong defense, powerful offensive rebounding, and timely shooting to capture the MIAA Division 4 state championship with a 58-55 victory over Cohasset Tuesday afternoon at the New Boston Garden.
With Winthrop’s number one fan and citizen, House Speaker Bob DeLeo, sitting courtside, and hundreds of Viking fans filling the Winthrop side of the arena adorned in their gold Viking Pride T-shirts and cheering on their heroes, Winthrop brought home its first state crown since 1995.
Tuesday’s contest was highly ironic for both D-4 North Sectional champ Winthrop and South Sectional champ Cohasset because it marked their first return to a state title game since that 1995 tilt when the teams played in an epic contest which saw Coach Peter Grimes’s Vikings pull out a triple overtime triumph over Cohasset in a contest that long-time Winthrop fan will recall was the high school equivalent of the Celtics’ triple OT win over Phoenix in the NBA Finals in 1976.
Although that Winthrop vs. Cohasset contest was 16 long years ago and was played in the old Boston Garden (those were the last high school games to be played in that venue), Tuesday’s championship encounter likewise was a hard fought battle between two savvy, tough, and well coached basketball teams.
Whenever you have a hard fought, championship basketball affair, every basket, every miss, every rebound, and every turnover — every everything — takes on huge significance. But of all the big hoops and all of the big plays in the game, the one that stood out the most was the three pointer by Viking Joe D’Amore to the left side from the top of the key with 2:32 to play that struck the proverbial dagger into Cohasset and gave Winthrop a 52-43 lead.
The trey by D’Amore put an exclamation point on a remarkable final quarter effort by the junior. D’Amore, who played the role of sixth layer in the game, turned in a performance worthy of the most famous sixth man of all time, John Havlicek. In a three minute stretch in that final period, he scored nine straight points for Winthrop on a variety of powerful drives to the basket, including one in which he used his fleet soccer legs to break a Cohasset press and dash three quarters of the length of the floor on the left to beat two Cohasset defenders to the basket.
D’Amore’s one man wrecking crew effort broke open what had been a tight 45-43 game with 4:45 to go. Joe capped off his personal scoring surge by calmly draining two free throws with 1:30 remaining that kept Cohasset at bay, 54-46. D’Amore, who had scored only one basket in the first period prior to his outburst, ended up with 13 points on the day.
But D’Amore was only one of various Vikings who stepped up at different junctures of the contest to play key roles in the victory. Anthony Hatzisavas, the big man with the soft inside touch, played his usual bull-in-a-china-shop role under the offensive boards. Hatzi’ wreaked havoc on Cohasset throughout the contest, serving notice of what was in store for his opponents from the outset when he pulled down an offensive rebound and put it back in for the first Winthrop score of the day.
Anthony ended up as Winthrop’s leading scorer with 17 points and grabbed a team high 13 rebounds. And when Hatzi’ was not doing his thing, front court mate Quinton Dale was likewise giving Cohasset fits. The graceful Dale made some stylish moves to the hoop and also was a force on the boards, including an offensive rebound and put back to beat the buzzer at the half that boosted Winthrop into a 23-23 deadlock at the intermission. Dale, who ended up with 12 points, and Hatzisavas were the only Vikings who scored in every quarter.
Michael “Hang-time” Griffin made for a quartet of Vikings who reached double figures, hitting for 10 points on some of his patented drives and short jumpers in which he seemingly suspends his body in mid air as defenders go flying past him. Michael also drained a three pointer in the second period and was Winthrop’s leading scorer with eight points in the first half.
That four of Coach Dave Brown’s squad achieved double figures in scoring is a testament to a team that featured no superstars and which truly melded as a unit as the season progressed, both of which were hallmarks of that 1995 Winthrop championship team.
Point guard Taj Generazzo chipped in five points, all in the second half, with a trey in the third frame and two free throws with 0:40 on the clock that stymied a Cohasset comeback bid. The free throws boosted Winthrop into a 56-50 led that earned for Taj the honor of having scored what would prove to be the eventual, championship-clinching points.
Generazzo also teamed with backcourt mate P.J. Doherty to play a stifling perimeter defense that held in check Cohasset star point guard Robert Jones, who single-handedly had brought Cohasset into the title game with a spree of threes in the final quarter in the South Sectional final against Cathedral on Saturday.
Winthrop jumped out to a 16-9 lead after the first quarter, but Cohasset showed that it would not fold. The Skippers from the South Shore reeled off the first eight points to start the second frame to take their first lead since the opening minutes of the game, 17-16. However, Griffin halted the Cohasset momentum when he popped in his trey.
From 23-23 at the half, Hatzisavas and Dale combined for 14 points in the third quarter that propelled the Vikings into a six point advantage entering the fourth period, 40-34. But Cohasset hung tough, closing the gap to 45-43. A Skipper shot that would have tied the score rolled around the rim and out and Hatzisavas pulled down the big defensive rebound. D’Amore then went on his tear and Winthrop went home with the state championship trophy.
“The team gave 110 percent,” said Brown afterwards. “We knew Cohasset was a very well coached team, but we played smart and we played hard. It was the first time in the tourney that we were behind, but we never panicked. It was not our best offensive effort, but we played team defense when we needed to. The boys were not going to leave that floor without the championship trophy.”