On the first day of practice, coach Leo Boucher and four of his players from the former St. Clement High School took the court at their new home, Pope John in Everett.
On Monday afternoon, the Tigers celebrated on TD Garden parquet as one — defeating Mashpee, 70-62, in a Division 4 state semifinal on the strength of a 11-1 game-clinching run.
Now Pope John, which opened its doors in Everett in 1967, will send its boys’ basketball team to its first state final. The Tigers (23-1) will play Maynard on Saturday in Springfield.
“We’re not a team, we’re a family,” said Boucher. “Our basketball team is just about everything to us. It is pretty cool [going to the state finals]. We got a great administration and we got great kids and great support. It’s just awesome. It is great for this school, and it’s great for these kids.”
With less than two minutes to play, Pope Johntrailed, 61-60, and Catholic Central Small League MVP Angel Price-Espada was dealing with a lower leg injury.
Needing a basket to regain momentum, the Tigers turned to senior Michael Thompson (14 points, 12 rebounds), whose layup with 1:35 to play put his team back in front, 62-61.
A steal and fast-break layup by junior Mehkhi Collins (23 points) on the ensuing possession was then followed by a Thompson layup after another forced turnover seconds later.
“I am just proud of my teammates,” said Collins. “We stuck it out . . .
“We all came from different places: St. Clement, Medford, Boston, everywhere. We got together as one unit and played together and we fight. We just fight. We have so much fight.”
Mashpee (19-5) ran out of gas, but not before nearly going the distance.
Junior Devaun Ford (19 points) went to his favored left hand and got inside the paint against the Tigers’ 2-3 zone, on numerous occasions, and 6-foot-2-inch senior Anthony Gonsalves commanded the boards — tallying 15 points and 16 rebounds.
The game was never out of hand. Senior Michael Fraser’s deep 3-pointer as the horn sounded at the end of the first kept Mashpee within 3 (19-16). Mashpee only trailed by 5 (37-32) at the half.
Gonsalves’s layup with 3:39 left put the Falcons up 61-59, and was their last field goal of the game.
“Pope John made the plays when it mattered at the end,” said Mashpee coach Rick Boulrisse.Karl Capen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.