In years to come, if anyone should look back at the Malden High basketball team’s 2010–2011 campaign, the thing that is most likely to jump out at them is the mediocrity of the Golden Tornadoes 7-13 record and the fact they missed the State Tournament for the first time in four seasons.
But what will not show up amongst the results and score lines is the way head coach Don Nally’s team fought for little else than pride down the stretch, ending the season on a high-note three-times over, winners of three of their final five games, including last night’s non-league tilt.
Malden walked off the court at Roy G. Finn Gymnasium for the final time this year with their heads held high, knocking off tourney-bound Winthrop of the Northeastern Conference 59-47 on senior night.
“Obviously, this game was great for our seniors,” said Nally. “I was happy for those guys, that they could go out winning their last high school game. That’ll be special to them forever.”
Malden’s seniors led the charge offensively, and none more so than co-captain Teddy Francois, whose 21 points not only led all scorers, but established a season-high for both himself and the Golden Tornadoes. Francois (8 rebounds, 5 steals), a GBL all-star selection this year, leaves Malden High as the all-time single season steals leader with 69, including five against the Vikings (14-7) last night. Francois is also the first player in Malden High history to lead the team in both scoring and assists in more than 20 different games over a career.
Nally didn’t need many words to describe what his star forward has meant to the program over the last few years, but the words he used truly said it all.
“He’s the heart and soul of this team.”
“Teddy’s just left everything on the floor,” Nally continued. “He’s just played with so much heart.”
Despite having no real shot at the postseason down the stretch, the Golden Tornadoes put together several strong performances to go 3-2 over their last five games. Foremost amongst these, surely must be Monday’s epic win over Chelmsford.
With five seconds remaining Francois knocked down a clutch jumper, giving Malden its first lead of the game and the victory.
Coming hot on the heels of that pulse-quickening win, last night’s game meant everything to the Golden Tornadoes. Conversely, it meant next to nothing to their opponents.
“This was an exclusion game,” said Winthrop head coach, “so it didn’t really matter too much to us. Malden came out with energy, they wanted to win here on senior night, so I give them all the credit in the world.”
The game stayed close until late, as Malden held a miniscule 44-42 lead at the start of the final frame thanks to a Rodney Morton 3-pointer moments before the end of the third. A few minutes later, with the lead now 48-47, the Golden Tornadoes’ defense imposed its will upon this one, holding the Vikings off the scoreboard over the last three minutes of the game.
Also ringing up a tidy sum at the net was senior Ryan Donovan who posted 11 points, including a trey from the wing during the third that helped put some wind under Malden’s sails.
“I loved it when he hit that three in the corner,” said Nally. “That kind of sparked us ... he’s a real gritty player; he’s been battling a bad back all year. Ryan’s had a nice little career for us.”
Also amongst the MHS class of 2011 are center Vernon Sainvil and guards Jean Messeroux and Matt Howe.
Howe leaves Malden High as one of the hardest working and most hard-nosed players in recent memory, but he also served as a source of tranquility during stormy seas. While rarely figuring much in the scoring, Howe was an excellent floor leader at the point, and was often employed by Nally as a sort of counter measure when his starters began to get flustered or outplayed.
“When we would start to unravel, Matt would come in and set the table for us,” said Nally. “He just kept us under control...he came off the bench and gave us a lift all year.”
The night didn’t belong entirely to the seniors however, as a pair of underclassmen forcefully stated their intent to lead by example next season, showing glimpses of what could be a very exciting Golden Tornadoes team in the near future.
Sophomore guard Rodney Morton collected 13 points and 3 steals, while junior Witchie Exilhomme pulled down 15 boards to go along with 10 points.
Add to that mix sophomore Jerome Belle, and all the elements are there.
“We’ll be a tournament team next year,” forecast Nally. “My young kids are battle tested now. We’ll be fine.”
Morton looks to be the man to inherit the leadership mantle vacated by Francois next year. When asked if he thought the Golden Tornadoes would be “Morton’s team” next season, Nally was unecquivocal. “Yes,” he replied.
As far as Exilhomme is concerned, he is clearly the most enigmatic of the trio, having never played organized basketball before this year. As any fan of MHS football can attest, Exilhomme is a tremendous athlete, but watching him on the court is stunning. Nally believes he should become a force to reckoned with his senior year.
“(Witchie) has so much heart,” said Nally. “He’s the one player who I can honestly say, gets mad when someone scores on him. He doesn’t think that should happen...he just plays so hard.”