St. Clement just wins, all the way to the Division 4 title

WORCESTER, Mass. – All they did was win the games on their schedule. Most importantly, they won the last one, with all the drama that it entailed.

Leo Boucher knew there were questions out there about the schedule that his St. Clement team played. While he could cite plenty of good teams, including ones in Division 3, that they beat, those questions were all best answered by their dramatic 45-42 win over Quaboag Regional in the Division 4 state final on Friday night.

“People had a question about our schedule,” Boucher said. “Our league doesn’t get a lot of credit. I didn’t think we were ready for the tournament last year, but I thought we were this year.”

St. Clement started the season with a loss at East Boston. They never lost again, winning their last 24 games, including the likes of Division 3 semifinalist Watertown and Arlington Catholic, who was two games away from the Garden in Division 3. They beat Lowell Catholic, who finished second in their division, by double digits both times. And while East Boston was a higher-level opponent, it’s clear that they learned from the season-opening loss to the Jets.

While the Anchormen would probably have a tough time with the likes of New Mission or Putnam in even higher divisions, they have a fine team in their own right. They feature the best player in Division 4 in Khaneil Bruce (6’4″ Sr. SF-PF), a star wide receiver on the gridiron who does many things well and is very athletic. There’s Brandon Williams (5’6″ Jr. PG), a very quick diminutive floor leader who can get to the basket often, although he sometimes plays too fast. Eamonn Joyce (6’8″ Jr. PF) leads the way inside and has a lot of as-yet untapped potential.

The big individual story, though, was that of Emaru Pena (5’8″ Jr. SG). He was battling a foot injury that kept him out of practice, but he came up with back-to-back three-pointers in the third quarter to help them open up the lead, then hit one in the fourth that ultimately was the game-winner as it put the Anchormen up 45-39 at the time.

Bruce had a clutch shot of his own. On a play that looked like it was busted, he went down after a shot, but got up and got the loose ball that came where he was. In almost the same motion, he put up a tough runner that went in. It’s all part of how he did anything to win, from scoring to rebounding to handling the ball.

“His rebounds were key, his shots at the basket were key,” Joyce said of Bruce.

Joyce was a big factor on the glass, getting several offensive boards. His body can still mature, he has a little length, and his post moves aren’t bad but can get better. It seemed like he was around the offensive glass all night long. He has some upside and could have a big senior year with a good off-season of continued development.

The game was also a coming-out party of sorts for a couple of players that people in eastern Massachusetts probably don’t know about. Jacob Wisniewski (6’5″ Jr. SF-PF) was arguably the best player on the floor and had a phenomenal effort for Quaboag Regional, while teammate William Watkins (6’1″ So. SG) is your vintage “potential” player.

Wisniewski did it all. He hit reverse layups, got stickbacks, hit from the elbow, hit a mid-range pull-up, made a three-pointer, and even finished while getting fouled. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s a willing defender, rebounds and simply competes every second he’s on the floor. No one seeing him for the first time could walk away unimpressed.

Watkins has the physical gifts to be a better prospect. He’s long and a baby physically, with a frame that can carry some more good weight. He’s athletic with above-average ball skills as well and a stroke that looks fine. On this night, however, his three-point shots were not falling, sometimes missing badly, and he didn’t show a great feel for the game. The latter can be developed.

Fans who packed the Hart Center on Friday night got quite a treat. These two teams get a little overshadowed being in Division 4, but they had the spotlight all to themselves for one night and took full advantage of it. St. Clement was just a little better, winning one more game like they did every time out after December 12.

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