Come-from-Behind Win Sends Boys to Round Two

By MAX HART

NEW BEDFORD - Not even the weather, it seems, can stop the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School boys' basketball team.

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Overcoming a blinding snowstorm with almost whiteout conditions, the Vineyarders rolled into New Bedford last night for the first round of the Division 2 state tournament and left celebrating their first post season win in six years with a thrilling 72-65 win over Greater New Bedford Vocational Technical High School.

Conquering a serious case of tournament jitters, the Vineyarders clawed their way back from a 10-point deficit deep in the second half for a come-from-behind upset that vaults them into a showdown with fourth-seeded Norwell on Saturday.

Talk about March Madness.

It's what these guys have been doing for the past two months - playing their type of game and never feeling like they are out of it," head coach Mike Joyce said after the victory. "If they play their game, they can compete with anybody."

Matt Rivers led the way with 23 points, while John Swan and Ben Madeiras added 11 points to pace the Vineyarders (16-7, 12th seed). Tim Scott added nine points - all in an electrifying second half - to help ignite the comeback. Terrell Johnson finished with eight points and eight rebounds and another solid game defensively while suffering a twisted ankle in the second half.

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Despite the outcome, the Vineyarders trailed Greater New Bedford (18-6, fifth seed) for more than three quarters of the game, and had to work through a visible nervousness early in the game that put them in a hole from the outset. And while the team may have brought their late season momentum with them to the Z. Walter Janiak Field House in New Bedford (the Vineyard was 8-1 down the stretch), it was apparent that it had quickly and quietly disappeared.

The Bears immediately took advantage of a spirited home crowd and shaky Vineyard defense, jumping to a quick 8-0 lead, scoring several easy layups down the middle of the lane. On the other side of the ball, the Vineyard offense was just as flat, failing to get off a decent shot until Johnson drained a jumper for the Vineyard's first two points almost four minutes into the game.

Greater New Bedford controlled the first half until the Vineyard made a run with just over six minutes left. Rivers earned a tough basket under the hoop to cut Greater New Bedford's lead to 23-20, followed immediately by a Madeiras steal that he took coast to coast for another two points. Suddenly, the Vineyarders were only down by one.

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But Greater New Bedford responded, draining two three-pointers and building their lead back up to seven points with under two minutes to play. The Vineyard responded in turn, with Swan making a layup, Bubba Brown sinking two free throws and Jacob Vanderhoop adding two more off a steal with time running out. His layup at the buzzer sent the Vineyarders into the locker room at halftime down 34-31.

"I told the team at halftime that we played about as nervous as we could play and we were still only down by three," Mr. Joyce said. "I said, ‘I know you guys can do this. You just need to take the ball at them.' "

Indirectly, Mr. Joyce was speaking to Rivers, his star forward who up to that point was playing more tentatively than usual, his dominating style kept in check by a case of nerves. With one half over, the Bears had contained Rivers almost completely, limiting him to just five points and a handful of rebounds.

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"You could tell he wasn't comfortable in his game in the first half," Mr. Joyce said. "The zone defense was all over him, and he was getting frustrated by it."

Rivers' frustration came to a boil minutes after the start of the second half when he missed a shot and failed to run back on defense. Mr. Joyce took Rivers out of the game for several minutes to have a word with him.

"I told him ‘You are letting them win,' " Mr. Joyce recalled. " ‘Don't let them take you out of your game.' "

The pep talk worked. Rivers came alive, scoring 17 of his 23 points in the game's final ten minutes. When he was not driving to the hoop or shooting a jump shot, he was sinking free throws from the foul line or dishing the ball to an open teammate. With Rivers' re-emergence and Swan, Madeiras and Scott also aggressively driving the lane, the Vineyard erased a 10-point Bears advantage and raced to their first lead of the game, 55-54 with 6:43 left. A tenacious press and clutch shooting from Rivers and Scott down the stretch sealed the victory for the Vineyarders.

"It was really almost like two different halves," Mr. Joyce said. "Once we became more aggressive on both ends of the court, everything began to change."

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The team heads to Norwell on Saturday. Game time was unknown at press time, but fans interested in joining the team can check the high school web site at www.mvrhs.org/athletics/index.html

Boys' Hockey

With all the hoopla over the basketball team, don't forget about the Vineyard's other tournament Cinderella team.

The boys' hockey team stunned a fifth-seeded Canton team with an impressive 2-1 victory at Gallo Arena in Bourne on Wednesday night in the first round of the Division 2 state tournament. The win propels the Vineyarders into a meeting with Boston Latin, another team that was not expected to advance to the next round.

Twelfth-seeded Boston Latin upset fifth-seeded Quincy 5-2 on Wednesday.

The Vineyarders will head back to Bourne tomorrow. Face-off is at 4:45 p.m.

Scott Maciel and Joel Rebello each scored in the opening period for the Vineyard. Goalie Alex Minnehan took over from there, stopping 20 shots including several impressive saves late in the game to preserve the win.

"Alex was the star of the game, and his preparation was the difference," said head coach Matt Mincone. "You could see it in his eyes - he just looked ready."

The team was down 1-0 after Canton scored its goal almost right after the opening whistle. Strangely enough, that was just what the Vineyarders needed.

"It was probably the best thing that happened to us," Mr. Mincone said. "It kind of woke the guys up a little."

Six minutes later, Maciel found the back of the net on a pass from Scott Cleary for his 13th goal of the season. Only minutes later, Rebello slapped his in from just over the blue line, a shot that was accidentally deflected by another Canton player in front of the net.

"You could kind of feel something going on," Mr. Mincone said of the Vineyard's two goals. "Canton did not react that well and we just took advantage of it."

The Vineyard escaped a poor second period and protected their one goal lead in the third with cautious play to secure the upset.

"A lot of people look at our losing record and write us off, but this is now a new season and anything can happen," Mr. Mincone said. "We have no pressure on us, so if we can just work hard and never quit, we can surprise a lot of teams."