Green Season: Inside the 2000 Greenfield basketball season, 20 years later — Part 8 (State run)

  • Greenfield’s John Woznakewicz (center) battles with Algonquin’s Nate Harris (left) and Eric Wright for possession during the MIAA Division 2 state semifinal at the Centrum Centre in Worcester on March 15, 2000. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/7/2020 5:10:05 PM
Modified: 8/7/2020 5:09:54 PM
(NOTE: This is Part 8 of Green Season: Inside the 2000 Greenfield basketball season.)

There wasn’t much time to celebrate.

Just a few days removed from a dominant victory in the Western Mass. Division II championship game against Hoosac Valley, the Greenfield boys’ basketball team hopped on a bus and headed east.

The mission was simple: win, and play for a state title.

GAME 24 (March 15, 2000): Greenfield 63, Algonquin 56 – MIAA Div. II state semifinals, The Centrum Centre in Worcester

It wasn’t easy, but the Green Wave rode its usual stellar defense to a 22nd win in 24 tries. Aaron Clark stepped in front of an Algonquin pass in the waning seconds and was fouled. He hit both free throws to make it a two-possession game, and Billy Finn added two more from the stripe to lift Greenfield into the state final with a win over the Central Mass. champion Tomahawks.

Luke Martin led the way with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Billy Thomas canned two trifectas on the night en route to 14 points. Clark, who suffered a mouth injury early in the first half, bullied his way to 12 points and seven boards, and Deyvehn East scored seven points to go with six rebounds before eventually fouling out.

Finn came off the bench to score seven points.

“This is unbelievable,” Finn told the Recorder’s Michael “Ace” Kelley after the win. “It’s always been a dream to play for the state title and right now it feels really good.”

Martin blocked two shots and dominated down low. The 6-foot-7 big man had a decisive size advantage against Algonquin, and he kept opposing players out of the lane throughout the night.

“I was a pure post player,” recalled Martin of his role. “I knew if I took a shot outside the paint, (head coach) Scott (Thayer) would probably take me out of the game and I’d probably be running sprints the next day.”

Thayer mentioned the loss to Monument Mountain in the previous year’s WMass semifinal round as a coming together moment for his program. They wanted to prove that they were better than that result.

“I am so happy for this team,” Thayer said afterward. “A lot of people were down on these guys. They said they’d never do it. But these guys, faced with adversity, worked hard and got to the point where they believed in themselves and got the job done, the hard way.”

With the first state title in program history staring Greenfield in the face with one more win, the team acknowledged the ability to do something for the first time.

“It’s been a dream of ours from the very beginning,” East told the Recorder following the win. “We have the right chemistry and now we have a chance to do something that’s never been done in Greenfield history.”

The state final was set: Greenfield (22-2) vs. Charlestown (25-1), slated for 4 p.m. on March 18, 2000 back at The Centrum. It would mark the third state final appearance for the program in seven years. The Wave lost to Duxbury in 1994 and Salem in 1995, and the Townies of Charlestown were going to be quite a handful in their own right.

Being the underdog was nothing new for Greenfield. In ’94, the team lost to a Duxbury squad led by future Boston College star Mickey Curley. In ’95, Scoonie Penn and Salem ended the Wave’s run. Penn, who played at BC and Ohio State, is now an assistant coach on the Memphis Grizzlies staff.

Charlestown didn’t have that one singular standout, but they did have multiple college-bound players, including a pair of Division I talents. Only three teams in Franklin County history had won a state basketball title when Greenfield tipped in the 2000 final – the 1987 Frontier boys, as well as the 1996 and 1997 Pioneer boys’ teams.

The good news was that Thayer was part of two of those squads, serving as an assistant coach with the Panthers during their outstanding run.

“I think we can,” Thayer told the Recorder of winning a state title in its preview for the Greenfield-Charlestown game. “My thing is, why not? Why can’t we win this? We’re playing well, and we’re talented enough to win. I think we’re the underdog. We have to be. Their only loss was to Boston English. Hopefully it’ll be a hard-fought game. We have to be mentally focused and ready to roll.”

Earlier that night in Worcester, Pioneer failed to join Greenfield in a state title game. The Panthers saw their impressive season come to a close with a 60-44 loss to Hopedale in the MIAA Division III state semifinal. Hopedale advanced to play Newburyport in Saturday’s final.

Check back next week for the final part of this series, “End of the road.”

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