The official announcement came as a surprise, but the accomplishment was not unexpected, because when it comes to coaching high school basketball, Leo Boucher is at the top of the class.
Moments after the Pope John XXIII High School boys basketball team defeated No. 1 seed Mystic Valley Regional, 61-54, the PA announcer noted that the victory was the 300th of Coach Boucher’s career.
Boucher and his team had to dig deep to reach that milestone because the Eagles and their large group of supporters had every intention of derailing Pope John’s bid for a second consecutive state championship.
And for close to three quarters, Coach Tony Ferullo’s Eagles were frustrating the Tigers and their phenomenal guard, Angel Price-Espada who was held to seven points in the game. Mystic Valley led by as many as seven, 39-32, midway through the third period.
But with the MV defense double-teaming Price-Espada, Pope John players Frankie Imbruglia and Mehki Collins stepped up and delivered huge offensive contributions.
Imbruglia, a transfer from St. Mary’s of Lynn, scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, including a trio of 3-pointers. Collins had 15 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists and was clutch at the free-throw line late in the fourth quarter.
Conor Kelly, a 6-foot-4-inch senior from Charlestown, had seven points and five rebounds after getting in to foul trouble in the first half. Kelly not only made his presence felt with rebounds, but he aggressively went after the basketball to give his teammates additional opportunities on the boards.
Kelly was also immense on defense against the Eagles, who had two 1,000-point scorers in their starting lineup.
“Conor was a great role player last season on a state championship team and this year he has had to step up and play a starting role, and he’s performed very well,” said Boucher. “He’s worked so hard. He dug down in a big game.”
Luis Velasquez, a 6-foot-3-inch center from Chelsea, sparked Pope John with eight points. Cam Erickson, the sharpshooting forward from Everett, had seven points.
In an interesting and somewhat unusual conclusion to an exciting game, Mystic Valley’s senior captain Josh Briceus scored his 1,000th career point on the very last shot (a deep and contested three-pointer) of his career with six seconds left in the game. The crowd gave Briceus a much-deserved ovation.
Mystic Valley senior Ben Soto was honored before the game with a plaque recognizing his 1,000th career point milestone.
Boucher was humble about his 300-win achievement that all but guarantees that he will be enshrined in the Mass. Coaches Hall of Fame soon.
“The kids won 300 games, it’s their effort – coaches don’t win those,” said Boucher. “We expected a tough game from Mystic Valley and that’s what they gave us. I think getting Soto in foul trouble was huge for us – he’s a tremendous, multi-faceted player. We played a zone specifically to pinch on Soto.”
Boucher said he expected to see a defense that was designed especially to contain Price-Espada. “People have done just about every junk defense that they can on Angel. I thought Angel really stepped up as a teammate tonight. He found the open man when he was double-teamed.”
Pope John Associate Head Coach Larry Washington has accompanied Boucher on this amazing journey that has produced state championships and a mountain of memories.
“He [Boucher] is a players’ coach,” credited Boucher. “He pushes his players hard, but they admire him a lot. He’s a great teacher of the game. We go back a long way. I want to congratulate him on his 300th win. All the praise for him his well-deserved.” The Pope John boys and girls basketball teams were both set to play Fenway High School in a Division 4 North semifinal doubleheader Tuesday night at Winthrop High School.