WORCESTER, MASS.--With Zach Baines flying through the air, Matt Tate dishing out assists, Jim Djema hitting crucial shots and Sunday Okeke patrolling the paint, the Greens Farms Academy boys basketball team possessed the perfect combination all season long that led to a 21-4 record.
On Sunday, the combination produced a New England championship.
The No. 1 Dragons went on a 12-0 run to start the NEPSAC Class C title game and never trailed in a 56-45 win over No. 2 Hyde (Woodstock) at Clark University's Kneller Athletic Center to win back-to-back titles. Baines' 25 points helped him earn MVP honors for the second straight season.
"Right now I am bouncing off the ceiling," GFA coach Doug Scott said. "Last year there was a monkey on our back in the sense that we never won it, and we were good enough to win it; so we felt like we had to win it. This year, it's been a beautiful thing unfolding in front of our eyes and we've enjoyed it all the way through."
"It's an honor," Baines said of his MVP award. "But I'm not focused on that at all, I'm just so happy we won back-to-back titles. That's all we came for today."
All five starters --Tate, Djema, Baines, Okeke and Brendan Bieder -- scored during the opening 12-0 stretch. The lead remained about the same -- never getting smaller than eight and never larger than 16 -- for the rest of the first half.
"We were just disciplined against (Hyde's) press defense," Scott said. "They were frustrated by not getting any easy stuff. When they start throwing down jams, they get revved up. Most of those jams come off turnovers in the press."
The Dragons centered most of their defensive attention on Rider-bound senior Kenny Grant. The 6-foot-9 center was held to 16 points while the Dragons' 2-3 zone dared the Wolfpack shooters to provide offense.
"Coming into this game, we knew (Hyde) wasn't a great shooting team," Tate said. "We just wanted to pack it in and make sure (Grant) didn't score 40 on us. We had to front him a lot and limit his touches as much as possible."
Hyde (12-11) came out firing in the second half and quickly cut a 34-20 halftime deficit to 38-32.
Damon Gomes (11 points) hit three 3-pointers in the second half for the Wolfpack, the last of which cut the GFA lead to 41-35 with 9:31 left. The Wolfpack never got closer than five points as the Dragons got a key stop or a timely basket by Baines to preserve their lead.
"(Hyde) is incredibly athletic," Scott said. "If you give them any chance to drive they are going to go by. We thought we would take that away and see what happened. It worked pretty well until (Gomes) started hitting 3s and we had to get a little more hand in his face."
Okeke scored 14 points for GFA. Hyde missed its last seven 3-point attempts and went 4-for-20 for the game. GFA defeated the Wolfpack 64-59 during the regular season.
"I feel like when we met them the first game, and we took our mistakes from the game and executed them well today," Baines said. "We were well-prepared."
GFA defeated Pingree (Mass.) 72-59 on Saturday in the semifinals to earn a spot in the title game. The contest was a rematch of last season's championship game. Sunday's result ensured GFA's seniors, Tate included, went out on top.
"It's the best feeling ever," Tate said. "Every basketball player works hard to win his last game. This is what we came here for."