LOWELL – Every time things began to get a little hairy for Archbishop Williams on Saturday afternoon at the Tsongas Center, Bishops coach Brian Holden had a simple task for his team: Get the ball into the hands of Josh Campbell.
The senior forward was a one-man wrecking crew, as he scored a game-high 34 points to help Williams hold off a frantic charge from Catholic Central League rival St. Mary’s and score the school’s first state championship in boys basketball with a 75-71 win over the defending champion Spartans.
“It feels fantastic,” Campbell said. “We are always going to be a part of the history of the school now.”
For most of the way, it looked like the top-seeded Bishops (24-1) were on their way to a convincing Division 3 title. Williams never trailed and held as much as a 22-point lead in the third quarter.
It was a 17-point game after Lorenzo Jackson (17 points) hit a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. And after being held to 37 points through three quarters, there wasn’t an inkling that the Spartans (19-8) were going to catch fire.
Someone forgot to tell David Brown that fact as the senior, playing in his final game for St. Mary’s, began to heat up. He scored six of the Spartans’ next 10 points as they cut the lead down to 12 with just over five minutes to go. Brown finished with a team-high 22 points.
“Even when we were up 17, you knew that St. Mary’s wasn’t going to just pack it in and go away,” Holden said. “They are one of the best programs in the state for a reason and they have so many kids that can score from different spots.”
Campbell had an answer almost every time that the Spartans started to get some momentum going. He hit one shot after St. Mary’s had gotten it down to 12. Then after J.J. Martinez ripped off five straight to get the lead down to single digits for the first time since late in the second quarter, Campbell came up with a critical lay p.
He did it again moments later after Anthony D’Itria (12 points) hit a three, giving Williams a 69-62 lead. The only thing that could keep Campbell and his teammates from their first title at that point was failing to convert at the free throw line.
Unfortunately for Williams, that’s what began to happen in the final 100 seconds. Three missed free throws combined with five points from Brown cut the lead to 72-67. It would be as close as St. Mary’s could get, though, as senior guard Brendan Foster came off the bench to hit three critical free throws in the final 50 seconds to finally ensure a milestone victory for Williams.
“To get the program’s first title is really special,” Holden said. “It was a goal we set when I took this job. And it seemed crazy at the time but we’ve gradually been getting better. I had wondered all year if we were a good team. Now I can look and say, standing here, that we were.”
Williams got out of the gates to a 6-0 lead early and held St. Mary’s to seven first-quarter points in leading by nine.
The lead grew to 11 midway through the second on a Jackson three as the Spartans struggled to get shots to fall. Two Campbell free throws sent Williams to the half with a 31-19 lead.
At the start of the third, Williams looked like it was ready to run the Spartans out of the gym by opening the third quarter with a 12-4 spurt to take a 47-25 lead. St. Mary’s, however, found its footing and set the stage for what turned out to be a frantic finish.
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