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Lynn English boys become state champions

Lynn English boys basketball coach Antonio Anderson, top row, third from right, and the rest of the Bulldogs celebrate their MIAA Division 1 state championship Saturday at Holy Cross. To Anderson’s right is athletic director Dick Newton. (Spenser R. Hasak)

WORCESTER — The last time Lynn English’s boys basketball team won a state championship, Franklin Roosevelt was wrapping up his second term as president.

The country was still two years away from entering World War II. Carl Yastrzemski hadn’t been born (he’d wait until August of that year to come into the world). Lou Gehrig was still alive (he died June 2 of that same year).

The year was 1939. Eighty years ago. Before the likes of Al Levy, Lou Tsiropoulos, Ron Bennett and Anthony Anderson came along.

That 80-year drought ended Saturday night at Holy Cross’s Hart Center when the Bulldogs defeated Putnam Vocational of Springfield, 64-57, to win the Division 1 state championship.

The scene immediately post-game was one of unbridled glee, with assistant principal Gary Molea ecstatically shouting, “I have finally got to see a state championship here” as loud as he could.

Molea was still an assistant football coach under Clark Crowley when English last won a state title of any sort — and that was swimming in 1989 under John Lazar. Before that, Ron Bennett was at the helm when the baseball team won in 1980.

Molea is among the few coaches at English who have come close. In 1990, his first year as football coach, the Bulldogs made the Division 3 Super Bowl, but lost to Case. And in 2009, Buzzy Barton’s Bulldogs lost the Division 1 final to St. John’s of Shrewsbury.

Antonio Anderson, this year’s coach, won a state title with Lynn Tech in 2002, and could have had a unique triple play had his 2008 Memphis Tigers been able to hold on to beat Kansas in the NCAA Division 1 men’s final. If that had happened, he’d have had titles in high school, college and in coaching.

None of that mattered to him Saturday, nor did it matter to any of the players. Alonzo Linton, the senior forward who scored 27 points and pulled down 12 rebounds, felt he had to do something to show how happy he was, so he channeled Mean Joe Greene and gave his sneakers to an admiring fan.

“He wanted my jersey,” said Linton, “but I told him I couldn’t give him the shirt. But I gave him my sneakers, and he was happy.

“He’s admired me all year. I wanted to do something nice for him.”

Linton said it was on his mind that he, and English, were going to win this game.

“I was thinking about it, and I just decided that after all we’ve been through, all we’ve done up to this point, we weren’t going to come out here to lose.”

And, say his teammates, he’s been such a leader all year that they were bound and determined to see him go out a winner.

“He wanted this,” said sophomore Jack Rodriguez, whose steal and layup toward the end of the third quarter stemmed the tide of a Putnam comeback — one of several times over the course of the game where English answered runs by the Beavers. “And we wanted to give it to him. He brings it out of us every night. For his last game, we wanted to give it to him.”

The Bulldogs, who came into the tournament seeded No. 1 in the North, had to run the gamut of Merrimack Valley League teams (Lawrence, Andover and Central Catholic) before defeating Newton North Wednesday in the state semifinal.

“This is a feeling … I can’t even describe it,” said Rodriguez. “It’s better than good. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

For Anderson, neither the 80-year drought, nor the fact that English represented the Northeastern Conference, made much of a difference to him.

“This is 100 percent just for Lynn English,” he said. “You’re in whatever league you’re in. But this is a credit to these kids. They’ve worked hard. I’m happy for them, and this is for them.”

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