Fenway coach John Rice did not plan to coach his girls’ basketball team in Wednesday’s Boston City League semifinal against New Mission.
His younger brother, Piere McCovery, died Tuesday at age 34, and Rice was heartbroken.
But his wife, along with his players, encouraged him to coach.
A moment of silence was held before the opening tip at Madison Park High School. Rice was overcome with emotion and the Panthers consoled him.
“We just wanted to come out and play for him, give him a great game, having him not stress this game,” said senior Colby Upchurch.
“My little brother certainly would’ve wanted me to coach the game, he was a big fan of my team. . . . I’ve never had a challenge like this in my life,” Rice said.
Then, his players balled.
With a 73-55 win, the reigning City League and Division 4 North champion Panthers (13-1) held off New Mission (9-8).
Seven players scored as Fenway jumped to a 25-4 lead by the end of the first quarter, with junior Imani Terry contributing 10 points.
Unfortunately, Fenway has dealt with tragedy multiple times this season.
“We’ve all been through a lot of loss on this team,” Upchurch said. “I lost my father, Janyah [Gulley] lost her mother. It’s just something that definitely brings us together. We’re strongly bonded together by that experience so it’s great to see us come and translate that into the game and play our hardest.”
“They put me in the group huddle and gave me a complete team love hug,” Rice said. “I know they understand.”
In Thursday’s final at Madison Park (6:30 p.m.), Fenway will play Latin Academy, which blitzed O’Bryant with a 19-3 run in the second quarter on the way to a 56-40 victory.
Fiona Mannion collected 16 of her game-high 26 points in the first half for the Dragons (16-3). The junior forward also hauled in 10 rebounds.
“She’s a tough matchup, a real tough matchup,” said Latin Academy coach Bill Dever of Mannion, who is averaging 20.6 points per game.
“She’s been like that the whole year . . . she can dominate if you don’t help out on her.”
Latin Academy and Fenway met on Feb. 5, with the Panthers cruising to a 78-44 victory.