Last year, Brighton guard Malik James left the Division 2 North title game in tears after falling to eventual state champion New Mission.
On Saturday night, he nearly did the same, albeit for different reasons.
Brighton (20-3) went on an 11-2 run to open the sectional title game at Tsongas Center and never trailed, leading by as many as 14 points en route to a 66-59 victory over fifth-seeded Wakefield (17-7).
“Going into this game I was very nervous,’’ said James, who led all scorers with 19 points. “As soon as I walked into the arena I remember the moment that I cried, we were in the locker room . . . I went home and it was all on my mind, and knowing that we came out with a victory I want to cry again, but tears of joy this time.’’
After faltering last year on the same stage, the Bengals won a sectional title for the first time in school history. They next face South champion Stoughton.
Despite missing its best rebounder, 6-foot-5-inch center Tre Dowan, who was out with a broken finger, Brighton outworked Wakefield on the glass throughout the first half, taking away any second-chance opportunities for Wakefield. Brighton led, 36-22, at halftime.
“Last year really showed us when our guards are rebounding we have a great advantage,’’ said Brighton coach Hugh Coleman. “So we tried to emphasize that all year.’’
Wakefield was able to cut the deficit to 9 with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Leading, 63-56, James missed what could have been four critical free throws if Wakefield was able to convert, but twice the Warriors were unable to cut into the Bengals’ lead.
“They were better than we were,’’ Wakefield coach Brad Simpson said. “[Malik] got them off to a great start and then they just kept control of the game.’’
Stoughton 59, Hopkinton 53 - Aaron Calixte finished with 18 points and 10 assists to lead the Black Knights to a hard-fought win over Hopkinton in the Division 2 South final at UMass-Boston.
With the win, Stoughton advances to play Brighton for the EMass championship Monday at TD Garden. The trip to the Garden is the first for the program in school history.
The win was extra sweet for Stoughton because it avenged a loss to the Hillers in the quarterfinals last season.
“It was a great basketball game,’’ said Stoughton coach John Gallivan. “Two really good teams and you knew no one was going to quit. They’re not a team that you dislike, they’re just a solid team and we just wanted another chance to play against them and we’re glad we got it.’’
The game pitted two of the top guards in Eastern Massachusetts in Calixte and Hopkinton’s Barrett Hanlon, who was named Most Valuable Player of the Tri-Valley League this season. Hanlon finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Senior center Antonio Ferreira was huge down low for Stoughton, scoring 16 points and hauling in 15 rebounds.
The Hillers’ Jason Dlugolecki led all scorers with 22 points.
Stoughton led most of the game, but allowed the Hillers to stick around and with 5:40 to play in the final frame it almost caught up to them, as a Dlugolecki layup gave Hopkinton its first lead, 43-42.
But Calixte responded with a pull-up 3-pointer to give Stoughton back the lead for good.
“[Calixte] was very emotional in the huddle all game,’’ said Gallivan. “He wanted this one really badly, not that the other guys on the team didn’t, but he went out there and got it.’’