BURLINGTON – Trailing for most of Wednesday’s MIAA Div. 3 State Semifinal, Watertown got contributions from a number of players to nail down the 66-61 victory over Burke and clinch a trip to Springfield for the State Final.
After a shaky first quarter, the Raiders trailed the Bulldogs 17-12, but then senior center John Korte took control of the game. He scored nine of his 28 points in the second period, which ended with Watertown trailing by just a single point, 32-31.
“I think that it was just no one was hitting shots and I took it on myself that I needed to step up and win this for my team and that’s what I try to do,” Korte said.
Also hitting some key first-half baskets was senior Wenston Rodriguez. He scored 10 of his 12 points in the first two quarters.
In the second half, other Raiders began making their shots. A three pointer by junior forward Yoseph Hamad tied the game at 44 in the third quarter, and a second trey with 3:50 left in the fourth gave Watertown the lead for the first time, 61-58.
In between, freshman point guard Gabe Spinelli scored eight of his 10 points to keep pace with Burke. Watertown Head Coach Steve Harrington credited those two for putting Watertown over the top.
“Yoseph making two threes, those were two huge shots for us,” Harrington said. “And Spinelli in the second half was terrific.”
Making key plays on defense was senior guard Julio Fulcar (who scored 8 points), who also made three of four free throws in the last minute of the game.
“He iced the game,” Harrington said.
In the beginning of the game, Burke’s full-court press overwhelmed the Raiders. Spinelli sat most of the second quarter but Harrington said that his young guard does well in pressure situations put him back in for the second half.
“I was kind of nervous to begin with, shaky with the ball,” Spinelli said. “But he put it back in my hands, and he trusted me that I was going to come through and make some plays.”
The win provided some closure for the Raiders, especially Korte and Fulcar who played big roles last season and lost in to Hanover in the State Semifinal.
“I think the loss in the Garden last year really stung them,” Harrington said. “It was just a matter of focusing in this time of year, and they are laser focused. Not just them, the whole team.”
Defense is the Raiders calling card, Harrington said, but the team from Boston was a tough puzzle to solve.
“They are tough, they have mismatches all over the place,” Harrington said. “The way they play offense, they have an incredible shooter (guard Levar Williams). They are a tough team for us to guard, but we had some stops and we rebounded. We’ve been rebounding well the whole State Tournament”
In the locker room after the game, Harrington had a simple message for the team. “One more game!”
In the final, Watertown will face Easthampton, the West Champ, which beat Central Champ Sutton 75-72 on Wednesday. The game will be at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 17 at Springfield College.