As the final seconds of the Division 4 state championship ticked away Tuesday afternoon at TD Garden, the Lynnfield High boys were staring at a six-point deficit against Bishop Connolly.
The game was over, iced by Connolly’s Thomas Keyes , who swished 10 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Lynnfield senior Patrick Kearney , however, collected the inbound pass on the fly, pushed the ball upcourt, dribbled around a defender who half-heartedly stepped in his way, pulled up, and drained a 3-pointer as time expired for the 65-62 final.
Kearney was swarmed by his teammates on the court. There is nothing more that he could have done. Kearney, a well-respected senior, personified Lynnfield’s ideal of never giving up.
The Pioneers had earned the fourth seed, and a first-round bye, in the Division 4 North tournament, with a 13-7 record.
In its first three games of the tournament, Lynnfield toppled Manchester Essex (63-50), Lowell Catholic (70-57), and then Snowden (58-44), in the North final, earning its ticket to the Garden for the program’s first state tournament appearance.
Quite a run from a squad that returned only three players who had significant playing time last season, and only had three seniors in captains Kearney, Eddie Moore , and Conor Sullivan .
“We expected to be one of the worst teams in the CAL [Cape Ann League],” said Kearney. “It was a great year winning the league and getting here, because no one expected us to.”
Expectations for next season may be a little bit higher.
The Pioneers started Adam Buchanan, a 6-foot-1 freshman forward who scored a team-high 19 points in the loss to Bishop Connolly, as well as having two key sophomores and freshman sixth man in Brendan Sullivan (younger brother of Conor) coming off the bench.
After the loss, Buchanan’s expression was nearly glazed over, seemingly in disbelief yet silently determined.
When asked about his team’s future, he confidently expressed his thoughts.
“We’ll be really good for a couple of years,” he said.
The younger Sullivan sat next to him and wholeheartedly agreed.
“We don’t have any seniors next year, so that might be difficult,” he said. “But I still think we can be really good, especially after what we learned this year.”
Ultimately, coach Scott McKenzie believes his seniors may have created something special.
“These three kids are fantastic,” he said of Kearney, Moore, and Sullivan.
“They are unflappable and they have done great work in helping a team that features three freshmen and five sophomores develop into a fun-loving and utterly committed group.”
Buchanan said that the seniors “make me want to work hard. Their energy was contagious, I worked off of that.”
Beyond this season though, McKenzie thinks this team may have changed the culture of Lynnfield basketball.
“You hope that this gives a little bit of a bounce to the kids in our town,” he said.
“It [going to the state championship game] has nothing to do with validating the program, but everything to do with the fact that if you stick around in town together with your teammates, you can make some nice things happen. Your hope is that you see some young kids that are like ‘I want to be on that floor. I want to commit myself in the offseason.’ I hope that happens.”
This season’s squad featured three sets of brothers – Patrick and Thomas Kearney, Conor and Brendan Sullivan, and Jake and Sean McHugh .
With such strong family ties in the program, McKenzie may be on to something: He hopes that players will avoid the private school route, stick around town, and maybe keep making special things happen on the court.
For Kearney, despite the loss, the legacy he and his classmates leave behind is sufficient.
“I think we just showed all the guys that came in how to work hard. We really practice hard every day. The goal is to get better every day as a team. We took it step by step and we got here. That says something.” And it will say something to all the future Pioneers too.
Storied coaches step down
North Andover boys’ coach Mike McVeigh and Kim Penney , girls’ coach at Reading High, are stepping away from the bench after directing their respective programs to incredibly successful runs.
In 31 seasons at North Andover, McVeigh won 497 games, but more importantly, he earned the admiration of his players, and the respect of his peers. His last team, laden with seniors, dealt with adversity, but locked up a share of the Merrimack Valley Conference title and reached the Division 2 North final before falling to a talented Brighton squad, 58-44.
Penney guided the Rockets for 15 seasons, none better than her final two, when Reading ripped off a 48-game winning streak that included the Division 2 state title last season. This year, Assumption recruit Morgan O’Brien (torn anterior cruciate ligament) went down before the first practice, but fueled by the superb all-around play of senior Olivia Healy, the Rockets won their first 23 games before losing to Medfield, 59-51 in overtime, in the state semifinals.
McVeigh, a longtime teacher in North Andover, began his coaching career with assistant positions at Merrimack College and Lawrence High School before taking a few years off to raise his family. His next coaching job would come six years later, as head coach at North Andover.
Penney has cited wanting to focus on her family and business as the reason for stepping down.
Healy named Player of Year
Olivia Healy capped what was a tremendous career at Reading High with her selection as the state’s Gatorade Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year. Headed to the University of Richmond on scholarship, the 5-foot-10 Healy averaged 27.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.3 steals, 3.8 assists, and 2 blocks for Reading. She departs as the school’s all-time leading scorer (1,899 points) and has maintained a 3.27 GPA in the classroom.
“Olivia Healy does anything and everything necessary for her team to win,” said Steve Sullivan , coach at Middlesex League rival Woburn High. “She is putting up incredible stats while doing all the little things necessary to help her team win in spite of being the focal point of every defense she plays.”