Tourney time for Red Raider hoop team

Feb 13, 2020 by

Big win over Arlington seals the deal, 60-50

Published February 14, 2020


RYAN MAHER (left) and Luka Vlajkovic have been a key part of Melrose’s playoff-bound season. (Steve Karampalas photo)

MELROSE—The Melrose Red Raider hoop team found victory at exactly the right time with a 60-50 win over Arlington on Sunday, Feb. 9 at the Melrose Middle School gym. The victory officially brought them to 10 wins and clinched their place in the Div. 2 North playoff field.  

Ten had been the magic number for the Red Raiders and it was a bit of work to get there. Melrose had experienced a series of losses over the last week or so but Melrose rebounded against the Spy Ponders just in time. Both senior captains Charlie Borstel and Luka Vlajkovic had 18 points apiece in Melrose’s victory over Arlington. They remain Melrose’s leading scorers this season. 

It was a defensive gem as Melrose enjoyed a big lead of 14-4 at the end of the first and took a lead of 15 at the half. 

First-year coach Dan Burnes notched his first postseason appearance as Melrose coach and credited his team for getting the job done.

“After our loss to Burlington on Friday, we just decided to stay positive and remain focused. It was a quick turnover playing on Sunday, and there were a lot of players on this team who remembered being knocked out of playoffs by Arlington, so I think we played with a sense of urgency and although we were stuck getting to ten, I’m glad we got it done.”

Burnes believes this is a team who is coming into their own and understanding their roles. “I’ve seen some great ball movement by Chris Paul and Matt Morrissey, and Ryan Maher has just been unstoppable. He really broke out and had an incredible game against Arlington including some key steals.” 

He also pointed to the efforts of Brandon McSorley, who had a pocketful of three-pointers over the night. “His baskets have been perfectly time and consistent.” 

Melrose had a harder time last Friday evening when they hosted Burlington for a key Middlesex Freedom matchup. The Red Raiders were looking to avenge a previous loss of the season to the Red Devils but fell, 58-48. Senior captain Luka Vlajkovic led in scoring with a total of 15 points followed by Charlie Borstel with 12. 

Melrose had a lead of 40-39 in the third but saw Burlington outscore them 17-8 in the final frame and run away with the game. Burlington held a lead of 16-10 after the first, despite some sharp shooting from Charlie Borstel and smothering defense by Ryan Maher. Melrose fell to a deficit of 18-23 mostly due to some potent threes thrown by Red Devils Tyler Williams and Shane Mahoney. But Melrose’s Charlie Borstel and Chris Cusolito both hit treys that narrowed the gap at 28-21 at halftime. But a spirited 3rd quarter by Melrose completely turned the game around. It started with a basket by Vlajokovic and a 2-2 appearance at the foul line by Borstel, followed by 6 more points from Vlajkovic and a well-timed three by Ryan Maher to give Melrose their first lead of 40-39 at the end of the third. Despite the game slipping from their hands in the fourth, it proved Melrose can compete with division favorites. 

Just another unpredictable night in the Middlesex League. One thing is for certain, it should be an interesting playoffs.

Says Burnes, “The Middlesex League is essentially up for grabs. In any given night, any team can beat the other. So I expect the Div. 2 North bracket to be challenging and unpredictable.” 

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