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CATHOLIC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

On the road to Catholic Conference title, Malden Catholic basketball gets defensive

Malden Catholic is no longer the little brother of the Catholic Conference.

The only Division 2 program in the league went on the road and outlasted perennial contender Catholic Memorial, 60-56, in the final of the Catholic Conference basketball tournament Saturday afternoon.

Playing on short rest after both teams won their semifinal matchups on Friday night, the game was decided by rebounding and defense. Jeff Hill (12 points) led the defensive effort from MC to contain Knights star Kurtis Henderson, who battled foul trouble and finished with 16 points on uncharacteristically inefficient shooting (5 for 18 from the field, 0 for 8 from 3-point range).

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“Jeff’s been playing great this whole tournament,” said Malden Catholic junior point guard Tony Felder Jr. “He’s been locking up great players, whoever he’s guarded, he’s been doing really well on them. I know he was tired and I told him, ‘I got your help.’ When you have a family, you just trust each other.”

Offense was hard to come by early as the teams exchanged the lead six times, with MC holding a slim 26-24 halftime advantage. Jahmari Hamilton-Brown and Christian Rios made life difficult for the Knights down low, combining for 16 points, 23 rebounds, and 5 blocks on the afternoon. Then Felder (7 points, 5 assists) created some openings and found Hill for a pair of clutch 3-pointers to cap a 15-4 run and give MC a 45-33 advantage heading into the final frame.

“Both teams were tired from playing last night and it’s really tough turning around like that, especially in this league,” said MC first-year coach John Walsh, who won three state titles at Danvers.

“This is the best league in the state in my opinion and CM is the king of this league, so it’s great to get a win here.”

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CM (8-3) didn’t go down easily. The Knights battled back with Henderson attacking the rim, while Jack Wirtanen (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Kyle Phillips hit 3-pointers to trim the deficit to 56-54 with 16 seconds remaining. But Hill and Felder were clutch at the free throw line to seal the first conference title since Walsh captained the Lancers in the 1997-98 season.

“I went to school [at MC],” Walsh said. “I played there, and I was part of the last Catholic Conference championship team there, so it’s great to get back.”