HYANNIS/HARWICH/SANDWICH ─ When the regular season of the Monomoy boys basketball team ended and the postseason began, head coach Keith Arnold had some important words for his Sharks.
“You guys are winners,” he said.
So far in the MIAA Div. 4 South Sectional tournament, Arnold hasn’t been wrong, as the Cape and Islands League Champions have now defeated Sturgis East, Southeastern Regional, and as of Tuesday night, advanced to the finals with a 67-47 victory against Old Colony.
All season Arnold has worked to help his team establish themselves as a defensive power, and it paid off mightily in the semifinals when the No. 9 Sharks faced the No. 5 Cougars in the gym at Sandwich High School.
From the start, Monomoy suppressed their opponents with high-pressure defense while netting nine points before the Cougars found their way to the scoreboard, finishing out the first quarter with a 13-6 lead from which the Sharks never looked back.
As fans raised the decibel level in the gym to impressive levels, the Sharks continued their run, tallying 27 points in the second quarter to Old Colony’s 13 to take a 40-19 edge into the break.
In the second half, with Monomoy holding a comfortable lead, their head coach seized the opportunity to give some of his bench players time on the court, which set the crowd afire, especially after Tommy Graham sunk two back-to-back shots for four more Shark points.
In the end, Sam Reed had 17 points overall, Nick Meehan 12, Chris Mazulis and Eli Nickerson each nine, Isaiah Stafford seven, Kyle Charlot five, Tommy Graham four, and Jake Wisniewski three. Reed’s total included a trifecta of three-pointers, while Meehan netted two, Nickerson one, and Charlot one.
“It’s been unbelievable what these kids have done,” said Arnold. “Coming in, getting this new coach, listening to a different voice and a different culture, an old guy, old school in how I teach the game, so to their credit they adjusted well.”
The noise was nothing short of deafening in the gym of the Hyannis Youth and Community Center last Thursday when the Sharks kicked off their tourney run against the Sturgis Storm, playing to a thrilling 52-39 victory. Mazulis led the way with 19 points for Monomoy, followed by Stafford and Meehan each with 10, Nickerson with eight, and Charlot with six.
The dynamic match began with the Sharks cruising to a 14-2 lead in the first quarter, mainly on shots from Mazulis, who netted nine in the opening frame, and Stafford, who added six.
Although the Sharks outscored the Storm 15-5 in the first, the determined Sturgis squad roared back in the second to tally 15 points to Monomoy's 12 for a halftime score of 27-20.
Foul trouble plagued the Sharks in the second half, which kicked off with Nickerson scoring three times to open the third quarter, as well as Meehan sending a beautiful three-point shot through the hoop to put Monomoy ahead 37-24.
The Sharks stayed hungry and continued battling, taking a 40-32 lead into the final quarter, which saw fans reach the edge of their seats when the Storm narrowed Monomoy's lead to just one point before the Sharks quickly righted themselves.
Stafford and Meehan worked to bring back Monomoy's edge at 49-39, with Mazulis sinking a pair of technical foul shots to clinch the win.
The Sharks returned home on Saturday night where they played before a sea of fans to a commanding 64-40 victory against Southeastern Regional in the quarterfinals, this time led by Nickerson (14), Meehan (13), Stafford (12), and Mazulis (11). Sam Reed contributed 10 points, as well, with Kyle Charlot adding four.
After Monomoy took an early lead, Southeastern tied the score briefly at seven, but it was the last time they'd come close to overtaking the Sharks for the game's remainder as the Sharks ended the first quarter leading 16-11.
It was a lead they'd continue to extend throughout the game, much to the delight of the packed house, which included those wearing white in honor of the home team.
The Sharks posted another 14 points in the second quarter, taking a 10-point lead into the break that was partly the result of Monomoy's smothering defense and solid rebounding. Head coach Keith Arnold was impressed with their defensive strength.
“We're beating people on defense,” he said. “And tonight, the ball was going in the hoop. So we held them to low scoring, but conversely weren't doing the 'we're ahead by four; let's hold on.'”
A 17-11 third bolstered the Sharks, which included stellar shots from Stafford, who posted six of his 12 points in the frame. As the clocked ticked down, Monomoy's lead widened further, inspiring fans to take the court at the final buzzer to celebrate with their team.
“Last season we struggled in a tough league and not having much experience,” said Eli Nickerson following the quarterfinals win. “We came into the season with great expectations and knew we would be able to make noise in the league. Our team is peaking at the right time and we are playing the best team basketball we have this season. We have great team chemistry and we are definitely going to ride the momentum into the next couple of rounds.”
Arnold dubbed the tourney run to the finals a team effort, and praised the efforts of each member of the squad in the team's success.
“I'm going to shoutout the entire 15 kids, because without those kids that don't play much, we don't get much done in practice,” he said. “Those kids, the Tommys, the Chevars, the Alyns, they work in practice knowing the reality of who we are. I think that team deserves a shoutout for this accomplishment, because it's not just tonight. It's the whole season.”
For players, the run has been the best comeback against the doubters.
“It's been a great time being back at Monomoy and with my true family,” said Meehan, who returned to Monomoy from Nauset to play basketball. “I wish a select few could have stayed at Monomoy, but they got sucked into the black hole of Nauset. We won the league and now are advancing to the finals after coming off a great win. Coming off a 1-19 season to becoming one of the best D4 teams in the state, can't be better than this.”
"Nick and I went to Nauset and we were almost ruined. We went to hell and back,” said Mazulis. “We both made a return home and it's been a dream to play for Monomoy and make the farthest run in school history. This team has put Monomoy basketball back on the map."
The Sharks now head into the Div. 4 South Finals in Brockton tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. where they will face Cathedral. Regardless of the outcome, their head coach is already proud of their accomplishments.
“I’m happy for them,” he said following the team’s semifinal win against Old Colony. “Knowing a group of kids like this made history at Monomoy High School, that’s something they will never lose.”