Vineyard rocks Bishops Feehan and Stang to clinch tourney berth

Peter Keaney slashed through the Bishop Stang defense to attempt a shot during Friday's win at MVRHS. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

In the biggest game of an already extraordinary season, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School boys basketball team Tuesday battled back from an early 17-2 deficit to notch a thrilling and improbable 64-57 win over conference rival Bishop Feehan on the road in Attleboro.

The Vineyarders were led by Jack Roberts with 24 points, Peter Keaney with 19 points and 13 boards and Del Araujo with 10 rebounds. Junior Isaac Brown pitched in with 7 points.

The win pushed the juggernaut Vineyarders to 10-1 on the season, while clinching a berth in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) tournament. The win also gave the Vineyarders equal footing in the race to win the Eastern Athletic Conference (EAC).

Feehan was 11-1 going into the game, and now find themselves in a virtual tie with the Vineyarders for EAC supremacy. The Vineyarders’ win means they control their own destiny, and can take the conference title outright if they win all their remaining games.

Despite the happy ending, things were looking bleak for the Vineyarders early Tuesday against the Shamrocks, who beat the Vineyarders 54-51 on the Island on January 7. The Vineyarders looked sluggish and shell-shocked in the first quarter, as Feehan built a seemingly insurmountable lead of 17-2.

But despite the deficit, Coach Mike Joyce did not call a time out and instead let his team play on. It was a move that paid off, as the Shamrocks essentially exhausted themselves and the momentum slowly but surely went back over to the visiting Vineyarders.

“I know our team was good enough to come back, and I didn’t want to give [Feehan] a rest,” the coach told the Times after the game. “They were like a boxer throwing too many punches; I had a feeling they were going to tire themselves out.”Using their familiar full-court press, the Vineyarders were able to force turnovers and ignite their offense, outscoring the Shamrocks 29-7 for the rest of half to take a 31-24 lead into halftime. But Feehan regrouped for the second half and came out matching the Vineyarders’ intensity.The two teams battled throughout the second half, as each scored 16 points in the third quarter and 17 in the fourth quarter. The Shamrocks managed to cut the lead to three points in the third and fourth quarters, but could never quite catch up the surging Vineyarders.

Coach Joyce said his team didn’t let the raucous Shamrock crowd unsettle them. “We brought like 50 people from the Vineyard and that gave the kids a spark. Both teams played extremely hard and the energy level on both sides was great. This was our biggest challenge of the season and our players really responded.”

As usual the Vineyarders used a swarming press to upset the Shamrocks in the front and back courts, which led to 12 steals and 8 other turnovers. And once again the Vineyarders spread things around on offense, as seven different players scored in the win.

“We have unselfish players, a lot of good shooters and some strong finishers – and when we are playing eight deep we are hard to beat,” Mr. Joyce said. “I just hope we can keep it up. This was a big win for us, but we still have work to do.”

The comeback win had a markedly better quality than their easy 61-39 win over EAC foe Bishop Stang at home on Friday. In that game Keaney led the Vineyarders with 18 points, while Roberts scored 12. Izak Brown had 13 points in the win, including 11 in the fourth quarter.