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Ghosts bust Pioneers; St. John's falls in final to Westford.

Byline: Rich Garven

WORCESTER -- All the traits that have come to characterize the St. John's basketball team over the years were on full display at the Central Mass. Division 1 championship.

Unfortunately for the Pioneers, it was Westford Academy that executed textbook teamwork and smooth shooting on offense, aggressively defended straight up from baseline to baseline, and tenaciously hit the floor and the boards for loose balls for 32 minutes.

The top-seeded Grey Ghosts did it all -- and did it well -- as they handily defeated the third-seeded and defending champion Pioneers, 68-51, on Friday night at Harrington Auditorium.

"We go into the season and every game thinking, 'Move the ball, rebound, play with a toughness,' and they obviously came out with the exact same game plan,'' St. John's senior Drew Vittum said. "They probably outrebounded us, they played with a great toughness and obviously their screening and moving without the ball was fantastic. They played a great game.''

The Pioneers, who advanced to the CMass final for the ninth straight year, finished 19-4. It was their worst loss in a CMass tournament final since Holy Name defeated them by 24 points in 2001.

"We knew that they were a good team with a storied tradition and a great coach,'' third-year WA coach Chris Bramanti said. "We're just happy with where we are. I don't know what to say.''

The Grey Ghosts improved to 22-2 and set a program record for victories while winning their first postseason championship since claiming the Division 4 state title in 1968. They'll meet two-time defending state champion Putnam (21-3) in a state semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

"We ran into a really good basketball team and they were certainly better than us tonight,'' coach Bob Foley said. "They passed well, they rebounded well. The big guy played a darn good game and the other guys handled the ball and didn't turn it over. And we just never got going to play the game we usually play.''

The big guy was Westford senior Eric McCord. The 6-foot-5 center finished with game-high totals of 26 points and 17 rebounds while making 11 of 18 shots from the field and 4 of 6 from the line.

McCord was at his best in the third quarter, which the Grey Ghosts entered leading by four points and exited up 12. The lead never dipped below double digits the rest of the way, cresting at 18 and finally settling on 17.

McCord hit his first five shots in the third and scored 11 of his team's 19 points in the quarter on a variety of impressive low post moves, including an up-and-under layup and a spinning layup to finish off a fast break.

"They just played really well as a team,'' Vittum said. "They found him when he was open -- he obviously made some big cuts and it's tough to guard a team that passes the ball real well. And they did that almost perfectly today. So you have to give them a lot of credit.''

The Grey Ghosts also shot well from the perimeter, consistently knocking down mid-range jumpers and making 4 of 12 from 3-point range. Guard Dan Cornelius, the other senior starter for Westford, spearheaded the outside offense and netted 13 points.

Conversely, the Pioneers had difficultly penetrating -- with the exception of senior guard Stefan Masciarelli, who finished with a team-high 17 points -- and were consistently and uncharacteristically off-target from behind the arc, making 2 of 16 long-range attempts.

Junior guard Adham Floyd, who averaged 14.5 points in the Pioneers' two tournament wins, was 1 for 5 on 3s and finished with five points. Senior guard Davon Jones, playing for the first time since Jan. 19 after getting his academics in order, was understandably rusty as he was 0 for 6 on 3s and scored two points.

Vittum provided the lone inside presence for the Pioneers, collecting 12 points and seven rebounds.

"I thought their defense was very, very good,'' Foley said. "I thought the big kid played pretty good defense, but they all did. We were hoping to penetrate and we had trouble penetrating. Finally Stefan was able to penetrate in the second half and get some hoops, but up until that we had a tough time.''

Not many teams beat St. John's at its own game, but that's what Westford Academy did.

Contact Rich Garven

at rgarven@telegram.com.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Garven, Rich
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 7, 2015
Words:742
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