Warriors come up short in Arlington after strong first half

Feb 22, 2021 by

Published in the February 22, 2021 edition.

By DAN PAWLOWSKI

ARLINGTON — The Wakefield High boys’ basketball team traveled to Arlington High on Wednesday night to take on the Spy Ponders in a first round Middlesex League playoff matchup. 

The Warriors played a strong first half, taking a 38-31 lead into the break and eventually extending it to 10 before a 20-2 3rd quarter Arlington run turned the tide for good as the home team went on to a 69-57 victory, punching a ticket to the boys’ hoop ML12 semifinals. 

“Our kids battled to the end and never quit in the game, but hats off to Arlington, they outplayed us,” said Wakefield head coach Bryan Sweeney. 

Sweeney, who filled in as Wakefield’s interim head coach while Brad Simpson was granted a one-year leave of absence due to health concerns during the pandemic, concluded his season at the helm with a 6-5 overall record.

In typical Wakefield fashion, Sweeney wanted his Warriors to lock in on the defensive end this year, get out on the run when they could and focus on ball movement and moving without the ball in the half court.

There were times throughout the season when Wakefield was seemingly executing that style to perfection. It turns out, that was only building up to Wednesday’s first half, in which the Warriors executed about as well as any team could.

Senior Brett Okundaye, Wakefield’s leading scorer and do-it-all guard/wing, was unstoppable in the first two quarters and well on his way to his second triple double of the season with 17 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals.

Senior captain Chris Alden (15 pts, 3 reb, 3 ast) had 9 points in the first half, junior Andrew Quinn had 7 of his 13 and senior captain Paul Holman had 5 points and 3 assists as the Warriors converted from inside and out, making 14 two-point field goals and three triples.

“We had probably our best half of the season in the first half,” said Sweeney. “Brett really came to play. He was attacking the rim and finishing. We were really moving the ball and playing as a team.”

Wakefield outscored Arlington 21-16 in the first. Okundaye’s first of a few epic blocks got the Warrior bench to their feet, where they stayed for the majority of the first 16 minutes.

Alden and Holman were playing off each other well to start the game, trading assists and layups as they looked to hang with a Spy Ponder offense that was sharp to start. A tough and-one from Okundaye gave Wakefield an 11-8 lead, starting up the game within the game: Brett Okundaye vs. Rowan Newton-Paoletti. Newton-Paoletti, who finished with a game-high 31 points, scored 7 of Arlington’s final 8 points in the quarter. It turns out, that was key to keep up with the Warriors who were just getting started.

A Holman 3 after great hustle to keep the possession alive by sophomore Ethan Margolis made it 16-13. Quinn followed up a layup with a corner 3 from an Okundaye dish to make it 21-16.

Quinn stayed hot to start the second quarter, a free throw line fader making it 23-16. An Alden second chance bucket extended it to 25-16 as the Warrior defense strung multiple stops together. Newton-Paoletti took over with strong takes and knock-down shooting to keep Arlington in it but Wakefield never flinched.

Okundaye picked it up, scoring Wakefield’s final eight points of the frame and 10 points in the quarter as the two seniors continued to duke it out. Okundaye’s up-and-under, and-one finger roll made it 36-29 and he finished the half in style with a steal and a thunderous two-handed jam for a 38-31 lead at halftime.

Alden’s second 3 of the game started up the 3rd quarter and pushed the lead to 10. Strangely enough, that strong shooting forced Arlington into a zone, which sparked their 20-2 run in which Newton-Paoletti had 10.

“Arlington came out in a zone in the second half and it really put us out of our rhythm,” said Sweeney. “You have to give Arlington credit, they played a great game. (Newton-Paoletti) was on fire for them. He was making tough, contested shots.”

With the score 51-43 and losing all of the momentum, Okundaye sought to change that, soaring to spike a shot attempt for another huge block but landing hard amongst the traffic. That ended up being the last play of his terrific Warrior hoop career as he suffered a severe ankle injury.

“That made it difficult for us to get back in the game, because he is our leading scoring option,” said Sweeney of Okundaye.

Margolis hit a free throw and finished on the fast break as Wakefield responded with some heart to make it 51-46 after three.

The loss of Okundaye was hard felt in the fourth as Arlington pulled away.

The Warriors never quit, even after Arlington emptied their bench up 13 with 1:30 left. Wakefield fought until the bitter end, their final points of the season fittingly coming from an Alden 3 off a nice find from Holman.

Arlington met Watertown in the semifinals, a strong team that beat Wakefield twice in the regular season. Watertown beat Arlington 64-60 and went on to defeat Winchester 69-60 in the finals.

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