After opening the Div. 2 state tournament with a thrilling 72-71 win over Charlestown, the Burlington High boys basketball team advanced to the quarterfinals on Tuesday with a 61-58 win at home against visiting Longmeadow.
The Middlesex League Freedom Division champions now host Holyoke in the Div. 2 state quarterfinals on Friday night back at BHS at 6:30 p.m.
BHS led 55-43 after three quarters and by 14 in the opening moments of the fourth, before the visitors used a 12-2 run to make the score 59-55 with 2:50 remaining.
With 2:26 to go, senior captain Shane Mahoney checked back into the game for the Red Devils after missing most of the fourth quarter with leg cramps, and Burlington junior Eric Sekyaya converted a layup on the next BHS possession to make it 61-55.
Sekyaya scored a team-high 21 points for Burlington.
Sophomore Griffin Collins hit a 3-pointer for Longmeadow with two minutes left, cutting the gap to three, but neither team would score again.
Senior Logan Ciulla (18 points) blocked a shot by LHS sophomore Thomas McMahon with 1:24 to play, but the guests had two more chances to tie the score.
With 25 seconds left, some solid Devil defense forced an airball by Longmeadow on a shot defended by Mahoney and Burlington didn’t allow a final shot to be taken with three seconds to go.
“We should have put it away earlier than we did,” said Devil coach Phil Conners. “We did not play with poise tonight, we struggled. In spots we were good, just good enough. We good have been way better.”
The Red Devils never trailed and the game was tied only once, at 2-2.
BHS took command early, using a 13-2 spurt to lead 22-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Ciulla hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Sekyaya added a layup to make it 17-8.
A 3-pointer by sophomore Cedric Rodriguez (18 points) off a nice pass by Mahoney made it 20-8 just before the quarter ended and the huge BHS crowd barely had time to celebrate before Mahoney stole the ensuing inbounds pass and tossed in a basket just before the buzzer.
In the second quarter, Longmeadow didn’t go away, trailing by seven before back-to-back 3-pointers by Ciulla and Rodriguez pushed the lead to 13 (33-20). The visitors finished the half with an 8-3 surge to trail 36-28 at intermission.
Rodriguez swished consecutive 3-pointers early in the third for a 42-30 Devil advantage, but Longmeadow kept its composure and cut the gap to five, 44-39.
That’s when Sekyaya pulled off a rare accomplishment, taking a nice pass from Mahoney and converting a four-point play. Sekyaya hit a 3-pointer while absorbing a foul and then sunk the ensuing foul shot to instantly push the BHS lead back to nine, 48-39, with three minutes left in the third.
Ciulla knocked down two more from behind the arc for a 55-43 lead heading into the final quarter.
Sekyaya’s hoop to start the final stanza gave the Devils their biggest lead of the night. That’s when things got interesting.
Longmeadow scored the next four points and when Collins drew a foul on a drive to the basket with 5:26 left, Mahoney went to the floor with a cramp in his leg and left the game. Collins hit one foul shot to make it 57-48.
“That scared the heck out of me,” said Ciulla of Mahoney’s departure. “It happened in a summer league game too and we just fell apart. Obviously, we can still play without him, but we need him there. He’s the guy that sets up all of the plays.”
Four more points for the visitors, all off fastbreak drives to the bucket, cut the lead to five with 4:03 to go.
Sekyaya hit a monster layup with 3:51 to play before junior Thomas O’Donnell drained a corner 3-pointer for Longmeadow, making the score 59-55.
Mahoney finally returned moments later and Burlington earned another home game on Friday night against 11th-seeded Holyoke.
Junior Allen Miles led Longmeadow with 17 points while McMahon and Collins each added 13.
• Holyoke defeated Bedford and Dracut in two close games on its way to the quarterfinals.
• While only four players scored for BHS, several others made contributions.
Sophomore Jaden Brehm had two excellent plays on defense in the second quarter, sprinting from behind the play to disrupt two layup attempts by Longmeadow. Sophomore James Ellis also was solid rebounding, taking an offensive rebound in the second quarter and assisting a big 3-pointer by Ciulla that put the Red Devils up 30-20.
• Opinions vary on the new playoff system implemented this season, but three of the top four seeds are still alive in the Div. 2 tournament.
• If Burlington wins on Friday, the Red Devils will play either second-seeded Mansfield or seventh-seeded Norwood in the state semifinals.