LOWELL — On the first possession of Friday’s Division 2 boys’ basketball state final, Malden Catholic forward Nick Martinez caught a pass on the left wing, immediately rose for a 3-pointer, and splashed the net with a made shot.
“It was good to open the state championship with a make,” said Martinez. “When I hit it, I felt like myself.”
Martinez’s opening triple was a harbinger for him and his Malden Catholic teammates. Behind Martinez’s 28-point performance, top-seeded Malden Catholic led wire-to-wire and repeated as Division 2 state champions with a convincing 72-54 victory over second-seeded Mansfield at the Tsongas Center.
“All the hard work, the coaches’ game plans, the hard practices, all the workouts, it all led to us right here,” said sophomore guard Matt Gaffney.
Martinez, the Catholic Conference MVP, followed his opening make by scoring in a variety of ways; a tough drive over Mansfield’s TJ Veiking, a 6-foot-8-inch senior forward, for a pull-up jumper, and two more long balls from beyond the arc. By halftime, Martinez had 17 points and Malden Catholic led, 31-22.
Mansfield (24-3) attempted a second half comeback but was halted by Malden Catholic’s efficient offense. Forward Ben Howard (11 points, 6 rebounds) converted two offensive rebounds into easy putback buckets, junior Bo Moody added a right wing 3-pointer, and Gaffney (15 points) sliced to the hoop for a layup and knocked down a corner three.
Malden Catholic (23-2) built an insurmountable 51-29 lead late in the third. It proved too much to overcome for Mansfield who were missing injured starters Trevor Foley and Davon Sanders. Veiking led the Hornets with 16 points.
“We were only down nine at halftime and we thought if we could speed up the game on offense and do what we wanted to do we could come back,” said Mansfield coach Mike Vaughan.“But they’re just very talented. There’s a reason they haven’t lost many games in the last two years.”
Malden Catholic also dealt with injuries earlier in the season when starter Roger Vasquez and reserve Abe Camara suffered season-ending injuries. The Lancers proceeded to lose two straight against Catholic Memorial and Xaverian in the middle of January, but regrouped with 10 straight wins to end the season, capped by Friday’s state final victory.
“Ethan Tracy stepped up for us,” said Malden Catholic coach John Walsh, referring to the senior forward who joined the starting lineup and provided defense and rebounding. “Roger and Abe hurt our depth obviously, but guys came up big for us. I’m really happy for our guys.”
Walsh, a 1997 Malden Catholic graduate, has now guided his alma mater to its only state titles after capturing three state championships at Danvers from 2010-2015. When Walsh was hired at Malden Catholic prior to the 2021 season, Martinez, a sophomore at the time, only knew one fact about him.
“He came in as a winning coach,” said Martinez. “I didn’t know what to expect. He’s super hard on us but he’s a winner. Now I see why. We’re back-to-back [state champions] and all he does is win.”
Division 2 boys’ final box
at Tsongas Center, Lowell
Mansfield (24-3) 10 12 12 20 — 54
Malden Catholic (23-2) 16 15 22 19 — 72
MANSFIELD — Brandon Jackman 1 2, Caden Colby 4 8, Riley Sigman 1 2, Eddie McCoy 4 4 14, Nate Creedon 1 3 5, JT Veiking 6 1 16, Chris Hill 2 1 5. Totals 19 9 52.
MALDEN CATHOLIC — Nicholas Martinez 12 1 28, Preston Kellman 1 2, Ethan Tracy 1 2, Messiah Johnson 2 2 6, Buckley Moody 3 1 8, Matthew Gaffney 6 15, Ben Howard 4 3 11. Totals 29 7 72. 3-pt. goals: Eddie McCoy 2, JT Veiking 3; Nicholas Martinez 3, Buckley Moody, Matthew Gaffney 3.