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Three Boston teams win big in high school state basketball championships

Jimmy Myers
Three Boston teams win big in high school state basketball championships
Divison 5 State Basketball Champions New Mission High School Titans. PHOTO: PATRICK O’CONNOR

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Three Boston high school teams made impressive runs to state titles in tournament play over the weekend — the girls’ team from Cathedral High and the boys’ squads from Charlestown High and New Mission High.

The victories come in the wake of changes to the way the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association runs high school playoff competitions across Massachusetts.

Many supporters of inner-city teams felt that the old MIAA scheduling system seriously jeopardized Boston city high schools’ chances of winning state titles. But over the last three years, the MIAA opened up the playoffs using “power rankings” in a 32-team tournament with play-in games for teams with records of over .500.

The current system evens the playing field for all participants, critics feel.

The young women of Cathedral and the young men of Charlestown and New Mission defeated “the system” on their road to championship glory.

Cathedral Panthers girls’ basketball team repeats as Divison 4 State Basketball Champs. PHOTO: MIAA

The first salute goes to the top-seeded Panthers of Cathedral. With their 69-49 blowout win over third-seeded South Hadley, the Cathedral girls’ team captured its second straight Division 4 state title and sixth in nine years under coach Clinton Lassiter.

“We went through this entire season with bull’s eyes on our backs,” said Lassiter. “Last year, we were the hunters. This year, we were hunted. I felt this year’s team (19-5) felt more pressure because we were expected to win. That pressure showed itself early in the championship game as South Hadley (21-4) rushed out to a 16-6 advantage. Much of the pressure came from the fact that we were heavy favorites to repeat as champions.”

Enter 5-foot-7 backcourt star Jasmine Day-Cox, the lone senior on the Panthers squad, who took over the game. Day-Cox finished with eye-popping numbers on the stat sheet: 20 points, nine rebounds, eight steals, and seven assists in her last high school game. The quiet and shy star explained: “I don’t talk a lot, and my teammates encourage me to talk. I let my playing do my talking, but to have a game like this makes me happy to talk.”

Day-Cox got help from her teammates, with a special mention to Hijjah Allen-Paisley, who rallied from two early fouls that put her on the bench in the first quarter to score 15 points, including four three-pointers. Despite her early foul trouble, coach Lassiter lauded Allen-Paisley for taking two charges in the second quarter.

The rest of this well-balanced team followed the leads of Day-Cox and Allen-Paisley.

“Coach always tells me at the beginning of every game, ‘Jaz, we need you,’ because I always start things off with my defense,” said Day-Cox. “Once I got a couple of steals, my teammates knew it was time to lock in, and we picked it up from there.”

A 12-2 run pushed the Cathedral advantage to 36-26 at halftime. That lead ballooned to 42-28 in the third quarter. Junior Malani Smith tossed in 16 points (including three three-pointers) as the Panthers rolled home from there.

Lassiter knows the pressure will continue to be even greater next year as he returns a squad (which includes several honor roll students) that will lose only Day-Cox, who heads off to college at Post University. He will try to break what is believed to be the record for state titles, which he currently holds with Malden Catholic boys’ coach John Walsh and former Charlestown and Salem Coach Jack O’Brien. He is confident enough to say, “Now it’s a battle for first place.”

The young men of Charlestown High School (23-2) captured their share of glory by achieving the rare double of winning city and state titles in the same year.

Charlestown High School Townies win the Divison 3 State Basketball title. PHOTO: PATRICK O’CONNOR

Once again, Jaylen Hunter-Coleman and Jaylin Williams Crawford were spectacular as the Townies cruised to a 61-40 victory over Old Rochester in the Division 3 State Championship game.

Hunter-Coleman (18 points) and Williams Crawford (26 points) have been on this championship path since they played on the AAU circuit in the fourth grade.

This duo combined for 44 points, 20 rebounds, seven assists, 11 steals, and two blocked shots, leading Charlestown to their wire-to-wire victory.

Coach Hugh Coleman, father of Hunter and uncle to Williams-Crawford, has now etched his name and those of this year’s team members alongside those of past Charlestown glory.

This Charlestown team won four major tournaments this year: a Christmas tourney in New Jersey, the Comcast tournament (beating Division 1 powerhouses Needham and Catholic Memorial High Schools), the Boston City Championship and the Division 3 State Championship.

In his sixth season at Charlestown, Coleman is also one of the only coaches in Massachusetts history to win city and state titles at two different schools (two at Brighton High). He credits this year’s Townies’ achievement to hard work and team play.

“This team’s daily commitment to hard work really made me proud,” said Coleman. “These players did the job in the classroom, with multiple honor-roll students, and on the court. They deserve praise for their efforts. What we have is real.”

As for the Titans of New Mission High, it was “Mission accomplished” as they brought home the school’s first state title since 2016 with their 57-49 upset of top-seeded Hoosac Valley in the Division 5 state final.

The Titans hung tough down the stretch of a highly competitive, hard-fought game. The senior-laden squad was led by Jamari Toney-Simmons, who scored eight of his game-high 17 points in the fourth quarter of this high-pressure, nip-and-tuck affair. But it was his defense of Hoosac star Frank Field that proved decisive. He held Field to just six points in the final 26 minutes of the contest after Field scored nine of his team’s first 19 points.

Toney-Simmons was roughed up throughout the game but took the advice of his coach, Eleazar Clayton.

“I told him to stop making excuses for physical play,” said Clayton. “The refs aren’t going to call it. You have to play through it. He returned in the second half, didn’t make excuses, fought through everything, and we are here right now. He is our defensive backbone. He takes the toughest matchup every single game. He got the job done today.”

Toney-Simmons was supported by teammates Solis Blue and Musa Fofana, with 12 points each.

Congratulations to the Panthers of Cathedral, the Townies of Charlestown, and the Titans of New Mission for bringing championship glory to their schools and communities.