HARWICH – Tournament play brought out the best in the Monomoy boys varsity basketball team this week. The Sharks won their first round game against Old Rochester on Feb. 26 before their season came to a heartbreaking end to Jeremiah Burke on Feb. 28.
After a stout defensive performance against Old Rochester last Wednesday, the Sharks entered the Div. 3 South Quarterfinals hot. But while Rochester was a tough opponent, Jeremiah Burke was a whole different animal.
Although Burke was in Monomoy’s division at the No. 6 seed, with Monomoy at No. 3, Burke’s 14-7 record did not correlate with their skill, which were honed through the Bulldogs playing teams in higher divisions due to their Dorchester location, which led to statistic-impacting losses that did not reflect the team’s overall play, creating a somewhat unbalanced match.
The Shark Tank was full and buzzing before the game, the student section the largest of the year, and they came ready to cheer. The first quarter was reminiscent of their successful Old Rochester game, as senior forward Joe DeMango scored the first six points for Monomoy.
The Sharks then got off to a quick 7-3 lead after junior center Aidan Melton hit one of his two free throws, but Burke responded after a time out with back-to-back threes to give them a 9-7 lead, a lead Monomoy would find challenging to overtake, though they gave it everything they had.
Unfortunately, defensive mishaps and offensive mistakes led to Burke climbing to a 24-14 lead at the end of the first quarter. Burke then came out hot in the second quarter, going on a 7-0 run before Monomoy’s senior point guard Jamie Routhier ended the run with two tough contested layups.
The quarter was all Burke however and was highlighted by back-to-back transition dunks by members of the über-athletic team. Burke outscored Monomoy 22-11 in the frame, putting the score at 46-25 going into the second half.
Much to the delight of Shark fans, Monomoy came into the second half with a renewed intensity. The majority of the team has been playing together since childhood. Seniors DeMango and Routhier, Jason Ready, Eli Stafford, and David Malone, and juniors Bradley Alexis and Aidan Melton have played AAU (youth) basketball for the Cape Cod Bulls since eighth grade, and their chemistry was evident on the court.
The team returned to the defensive identity established against Old Rochester and forced turnovers by laying their bodies on the line and taking charges. Monomoy went on an 11-2 run to end the third but entered the fourth quarter still down big, 63-45.
In the final frame, the home team picked up where they left off, with forward Jason Ready taking a charge on the first possession of the fourth, leading to a corner 3 drained by Joe DeMango. Basket after basket, defensive stop after stop, the Sharks eventually got the lead down to 10 with less than two minutes to go in the game. The clock wasn’t on their side, however, and after key free throws were drained by Burke, they escaped the Shark Tank with a 75-63 victory.
“We knew exactly what we were getting into,” said Coach Dan Taylor. “I can't sugarcoat anything with kids this smart. We were honest about exactly who we were up against. The kids weren't afraid of it and were up for the challenge.
Taylor praised Monomoy's determination and unwillingness to give up, even when the score was decidedly against them.
“It's just who they are, their makeup, their DNA,” he said. “They never feel like they're out of a game. I'd like to think I had some influence on it, but I really know that it's just who they are. Whatever it is that's inside of them, they'll have that forever and will be able to use it anywhere they want in life. It's just not something you can teach.”
Taylor said his high points came during the second half of the third quarter and the first half of the final frame.
“That was definitely the basketball we knew we could play,” he said. “That was the type of basketball we would have had to play for pretty much four quarters if we had expected to beat a team as talented and well-coached as Burke.”
Taylor said that sometimes in tournament games, especially against tough opponents like Burke, such strong play isn't always seen, which made that particular stretch of game play will remain in his memory.
“That was some of the best basketball we've played all year, and they were by far the best team we've played all year,” Taylor said.
Monomoy entered the first round of the MIAA tournament on Feb. 26 with a home matchup against No. 14 seed Old Rochester. The Sharks were coming off of two big scrimmages with Nauset and Cohassest, which helped prepare them for the tournament. Fans will recall that Monomoy and Nauset split wins in their two games this season, with Monomoy taking the opener 59-53.
Against Old Rochester, also the Bulldogs, the first quarter was all Monomoy, led by DeMango’s 10 of the team’s 12 first quarters points. DeMango hit two 3’s and also bodied his way into the paint for two tough layups. What really stood out in the first quarter, though, was Monomoy’s stifling defense. They held Old Rochester to only two points and were swarming around the court, forcing three travels and countless turnovers in the opening frame.
Monomoy’s suffocating defense continued into the second quarter as Ready opened up the frame with another steal. Old Rochester struggled to get into their offense and turned over three possessions in a row to open the second. Junior guard Bradley Alexis picked Rochester’s pocket four times in the frame, leading to fast-break layups for Monomoy.
The Shark Tank went absolutely berserk when senior guard Eli Stafford swatted a 3-point attempt from the corner into the second row of the stands. Alexis’s seven straight points to end the half led to a 26-7 lead going into halftime.
Old Rochester showed signs of life in the third quarter, capitalizing on sloppy turnovers and poor shot selection, starting the second half on a 16-4 run. Senior point guard Jamie Routhier responded calmly, hitting a hook shot over their center, then on the next possession a reverse layup, ending the quarter with a step-back midrange shot to put the score at 39-29 going into the final frame.
Old Rochester again caught fire in the fourth, led by Jonah DePina who pulled up from NBA range and nailed a 3, but again, Routhier had a calming effect on his team, responding with another step-back jumper of his own. After the initial fireworks from Old Rochester, Monomoy returned to their defensive identity and buckled down on their shooters, only allowing two points in the final two-plus minutes of the game.
Old Rochester began to foul with 1:54 to go, but DeMango and senior guard Elijah Beasley iced the game, nailing free throws to give Monomoy an exciting first round playoff win.
Taylor said what helped the Sharks against ORR was their punishing defense.
“We got off to a good start defensively,” he said. “We knew we had to be tenacious and we knew we had to pressure. That Rochester team was down two starters and a couple rotation guys due to injuries, which you don't want to see, especially at the high school level.”
Taylor said Monomoy's strategy was to zero in on the team's strongest players in an effort to slow them down.
“We tried to make their lives miserable and I think in the first two quarters, we did that,” he said. “It was five guys on the floor, knowing where they were. They took on a tougher mentality than I think we've seen from them.”
Sadly, the end of the season meant a bittersweet end for Monomoy's seniors, each playing the last high school basketball game of their career.
Jamie Routhier said what he'll miss most about his teammates is their bond.
“We've been playing together since I don't even know,” he said. “We just trust each other so much and work so well together.”
Routhier said basketball stands out as a top sport because it's rewarding.
“To see all of your hard work pay off is so rewarding,” he said, adding that he attended summer clinics with coach Bob Catalini in order to strengthen his skills in preparation for what he hoped would be a stellar final season. “We wanted to be great and we were. I'm really happy with how rewarding this sport is.”
Jason Ready said what he'd miss most is his fellow players.
“We've all been playing basketball since fourth grade, and have known each other since before then,” he said.
Basketball, he said, will always be close to his heart.
“The fact that you can take five people, five of your best friends, to work for the same thing, to try to win,” he said. “When it's your best friends, it just makes it so different.”
Ready said what fueled his team, even when at a significant deficit against Burke, was knowing they were where they wanted to be.
“We had nowhere else to be on a Friday night,” he said. “This is where we all wanted to be. We didn't want anything else.”
Joe DeMango said it was the friendships between players that made Monomoy special.
“Like Jamie, Beas, Jay, those are my three best friends since I can't remember,” he said. “I've played sports with them all my life.”
The relationships with the coaches, Keith Arnold, Taylor, and newcomer Gibson St. John, were also an integral aspect of the team's success.
“Coach Dan, I'll probably know him the rest of my life,” DeMango said. “Even Coach Gib. He's only been around for one year and we've built a crazy-good relationship with him.”
“I'm gonna miss everything about those guys,” said Taylor of his seniors. “When I first game to Monomoy four years ago they were freshmen, so a lot of them I had as JVs, and of course I'm here for every varsity game. If you think about three months a year for four years, it's about a year of my life. They're the kind of kids that I would want to be friends with if I was still a kid. They're the kind of kids I want to be friends with at 34 years old. They're genuine, hard working, disciplined, coachable, have a great sense of humor. They're going to be people I'm going to stay in touch with forever.”
Taylor said the loss of Routhier, DeMango, Ready, Beasley, Trevor Russell, Brandon Willis, Eli Stafford, and David Malone would be huge, but given the up-and-coming talent, was hopeful for the future.
“The highlight of the program so far was their tenure,” he said. “We'll forever be grateful for them. They really kind of reinvigorated my love of coaching and for basketball.”
Ryan Walsh is a senior at Monomoy Regional High School and is an intern with the Cape Cod Chronicle through a partnership with MRHS. Kat Szmit contributed to this story.