MILFORD, Mass. – A few gray hairs might have sprouted on Thursday night, but the Milford boys basketball squad is Final Four bound.
In their last game at home for the 2012-2013 season, the Scarlet Hawks made sure to make it a memorable one for the team's electric student section. Milford (No. 3) held off a late charge from the Westborough Rangers (No. 11), 56-49, in a scintillating quarterfinal matchup in the MIAA Central Massachusetts Division 1 playoffs in front of a packed, standing-room-only crowd at Milford High School.
The victory advances Milford to the semifinals against Wachusett (No. 2) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Sunday at 5:30 p.m., while Westborough’s season comes to an end.
“It was just one of those ugly games and there’s nothing wrong with winning ugly,” said head coach Steve Manguso.
“If you survive and move on, that’s it,” he added. “That’s what this is about. It doesn’t matter if it’s pretty, as long as you win the game.”
Milford went up by as much as 13 points in the second half, but Westborough battled back and cut the deficit to 50-47 with 55 seconds left as the Westborough cheering section went wild. But that was as close as the Rangers would get as the Scarlet Hawks and senior forward David Mercier closed the game out with free throws down the stretch.
“We weren’t worried as a group,” said Mercier, who scored a team-high 16 points. “We’re a mentally tough team and we knew we could pursue through that and get the win.”
The Scarlet Hawks started the game off with a bang, going ahead 9-0 in the first couple minutes. Mercier paced Milford with five points in the opening quarter, as they went ahead 12-5 at the end of the period.
Then Milford extended its lead in the second quarter, getting key production from senior center Michael Soares and senior forward Michael Tracy to give them a commanding 27-15 advantage at halftime.
But Westborough didn’t back down as the Rangers came out in the second half looking like a new squad. They stormed out of the break with a new intensity, grabbing rebounds and making open shots, bringing the score to 38-30 by the end of the third quarter.
“They hurt us with second shots, without a doubt,” Manguso said. “They pressed us a little bit and we settled for the first thing that showed. They speeded us up.”
And the fourth quarter is when things got real speedy. After the squads traded baskets for the beginning of the period, Westborough made Milford fans uneasy as senior guard Zach Diamond banked a 3-pointer in transition to cut the deficit to 49-45 with two minutes left.
Then Westborough’s sophomore forward Connor Fitzgerald hit a 2-point jumper to make it 50-47 with 55 seconds left. The Rangers were feeling a comeback win, but they couldn’t come all the way back as senior guard Michael Titlebaum, senior guard Joseph Atkinson and Mercier clinched the Milford win with free throws in the final minute.
Now Milford heads to the semifinals against Wachusett on Sunday.
“Wachusett is very good. They were ranked No. 1 in Central Mass. for most of the season,” Manguso said. “They have wins over St. John’s, Algonquin. They’re a very good team.”
In addition to Mercier, other scorers on Milford were Titlebaum with nine points, Tracy with nine, Atkinson with eight, Soares with seven, junior guard John Calzone with five and senior guard Scott Vanbuskirk with two.
The scorers on Westborough were Diamond with 13 points, Fitzgerald with 12, junior guard Daniel Orlando with 10, junior forward Michael Power with five, junior forward John Omeler with four, junior guard Kevin Doherty with three and senior forward David Morin with two.