WATERTOWN — Perhaps the best thing to come out of the covid season is the Middlesex League playoffs, at least the teams that won a game think so.
The Winchester High boys' basketball team made it all the way to the final as the No. 1 seed, but lost to No. 2 seed Watertown in the final, 64-57, Saturday afternoon at Kelly Gym. Watertown hosted due to a coin flip. Although Winchester was the No. 1 seed, both had the same record.
The Raiders (12-1) moved out to a 14-9 lead after one quarter and Winchester was in pursuit the rest of the way.
Winchester got as close as a point (46-45) with 6:25 left before Watertown star Gabe Spinelli took over, scoring nine straight points to give the Raiders a 10-point lead with 3:35 left. Winchester got as close as five points in the closing seconds before time ran out.
"They had a lead, and with that Spinelli kid, it's tough," said Winchester coach John Fleming. "Every time they needed a hoop, he either got to the rim and finished, or he made the right pass at the right time."
Spinelli, who averaged 25 points a game coming in, ended up with 23, but only two of them came in the first half. Watertown, which stuck with its starting five for the entire ballgame, had its other four players build up a 14-6 lead in the first quarter.
Winchester's nine first-quarter points came on a Matt Hu 3-pointer (which gave Winchester its only lead of the game, 3-2) and two threes from Phil Sughrue.
After the Raiders got the lead back up to eight (17-9) on the second of four treys by Adam Patterson, Winchester went on a 10-2 run to get the margin down to one, 19-18, before Patterson struck again from beyond the arc.
"Patterson really kept us in it, he was 4-for-4 from the 3-point line," said Watertown coach, Steve Harrington. "We had to make some threes because they were a little bigger than us, and when they were doing a great job on Spinelli, he really came through and got us that lead."
Watertown went inside down the stretch in the second quarter and five points from center Jonathan Kimera helped get the lead up to 10 at the half, 29-19.
"They had a few guys make some big shots at crucial times," said Fleming, whose team finished the season at 11-2. "I thought we did a pretty good job defensively, but we just needed a few more (stops) and we just couldn't get them, or on the offensive end, making that extra hoop."
With Harrington sticking with his starters, Winchester tried to figure out how to get into the Watertown bench, without success.
"We were hoping we would put them in foul trouble," said Fleming. "Instead we actually had a couple of players get in foul trouble early, and that kind of changed the dynamic of the game."
Patterson's fourth three and two 3-pointers from Tyler Timperio helped Watertown build up an 11-point lead in the third, before Winchester began another comeback.
Winchester had experienced success in the third quarter finding Sean Gogolin underneath the basket for some easy points, and they did it again with backup Trevor Lopez, late in the third. That and an Omar Shakeel three helped keep Winchester within striking range going into the fourth.
Trailing, 46-38, Winchester got four free throws from Sughrue and Shakeel, plus a second trey from Hu, to get the lead down to one, 46-45.
That was when Spinelli took over, repeatedly finding openings in the lane and finishing at the basket. He also went 3-for-3 from the line (7-for-7 for the game) during the run to put Watertown back in control, 55-45.
Winchester fought hard down the stretch but could not quite catch the victorious Raiders on their home court.
"It was nothing that they shouldn't be proud of, it's been a good season," said Fleming. "All you can ask for is a chance, and we had an opportunity to win the tournament, and I'm proud of that."
Harrington would not be against having the Middlesex League hold a post-season tournament of its own on a regular basis.
"With it being this type of year, it was nice to have this Middlesex League tournament in the end," he said. "It seems like it would be a nice thing moving forward, to do this each year, something before the state tournament, I think we would all enjoy it."
Gogolin led Winchester with 16 points, while Shakeel and Sughrue each checked in with 15 points.