MIAA cancels state cancels state championship
    tournaments because of the coronavirus epidemic.

    Despite not being able to play for a state championship, the Blue Raiders were still named Division 4 co-state
    champions, the first title in program history.

    Last Saturday, members of the Hopedale boys basketball team knew that they should have been in Worcester
    playing for a state championship.

    Instead, a group of them went down to Hopedale Park to play a little pick-up basketball to take their minds off of
    how the season ended.

    “We would be joking around, talking about how we should be playing in a state championship game right now,”
    Hopedale senior Jake Wilson said. “But there were no sad feelings. The park is a happy place for us. We go there
    all the time.”

    “It kind of sucked because we knew what we were supposed to be playing for that day,” junior Alex Luccini said. “It
    was supposed to be the first time Hopedale was playing in the state championship in 20 years.”

    While the season didn’t quite end the way that they wanted it to, there were still plenty of memories and
    accomplishments of which to be proud.

    Despite not being able to play for a state championship, the Blue Raiders were still named Division 4 co-state
    champions.

    “We all grew up watching the 2014 sectional championship team,” Luccini said. “To be able to be perhaps the
    most accomplished boys basketball team in Hopedale history and finish better than some of those teams that we
    grew up watching, its surreal.

    “It’s a remarkable feeling because it hasn’t hit me yet,” Luccini added. “I think when the banner goes up next year it
    will finally hit me at what a great team that we had and that I was a part of.”

    “Obviously it’s a little bittersweet because we didn’t get to play in that game,” Wilson said. “But technically, we are
    the first Hopedale boys basketball team to win a state championship, so that is always a plus.

    “It’s also tough because we weren’t able to walk off the court celebrating and knowing that we are the undisputed
    state champions in Division 4,” Wilson added. “It just stinks for me and the other seniors that our last high school
    basketball memory is walking out from practice, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to play in the state
    championship.”

    Their coach, on the other hand, was doing nothing basketball-related on what should have been state
    championship Saturday.

    “I was home all day,” Hopedale coach Tony Cordani said. “It’s tough getting used to not having anything to do after
    being so busy all year, preparing for basketball games and then to not have one. It’s an odd way to end the
    season. It usually ends with a game and with a loss.”

    Cordani’s first year coaching at Hopedale was 20 years ago. It was also the last time that the Blue Raiders
    advanced to the state final.

    “It was a similar team,” said Cordani on March 12, when he called into “The Scribe and the Hawk High School
    Sports Lunchbox” radio show on 105.3 FM/AM 1280 WPKZ in Fitchburg, comparing this iteration of the Blue
    Raiders to the team that made it to the final 20 years ago. “The team 20 years ago was a group of guys that have
    been playing together for a long time and probably talent wise, you wouldn’t look at them and think, ‘Wow, they are
    overly talented.’ They just got the most out of their talent and played together as a team and that is some of the
    same qualities as this team.

    “They have been playing together for awhile, there is good team chemistry, they work hard in practice, they have
    in some ways have overachieved so there are some similarities.”

    It also doesn’t hurt to have a Sam Morelli to help shoulder the load with fellow senior Dan Liberatore.

    “I thought he had a real good season last year,” said Cordani on Morelli. “He really dedicated himself this
    offseason going into the weight room and bulking up. He ended up finishing as the team’s leading scorer and
    rebounder.”

    His teammates noticed Morelli’s hard work and dedication naming him a captain this season.

    “He has become such a better player and a better leader,” Wilson said. “He has really elevated his game to
    another level.”

    For Liberatore, who is heading off to play hoops at Worcester State next year, Morelli’s production is a welcomed
    relief.

    “Sam is a really good scorer,” Liberatore said. “His ability to get to the rim and finish is incredible. He is able to
    drive to the hoop, stop, spin and kick it out which he has really improved on in making the right plays.”

    Morelli is currently still undecided on where he will go and play in college next season, but his final two choices are
    Western New England University and Worcester State.

    “Of course we’ve talked about it,” said Liberatore on recruiting Morelli to play with him for the Lancers. “It would
    definitely be a fun opportunity. We’ve been playing together since we were little, why not keep it going?”

    “That would be great,” Morelli said. “We’ve been playing together since we were on fourth-grade travel team and
    through all four years of high school. It would give us another four years of being able to play with each other
    which would be awesome.”

    While there is one memory that they won’t have to cherish – celebrating a state championship on the court with
    their fans – they still have plenty of memories that they will get to cherish for the rest of their lives.

    For Wilson, the last two games (the Central final win over Blackstone Valley Tech and the state semifinal vs.
    Drury) will be the most memorable.

    “The sectional final and state semifinal,” Wilson said. “In the sectional final just being able to get the hardware and
    hold up the trophy, we hadn’t won a sectional title in six years.

    “The state semifinal, it was just a great game overall,” Wilson added. “The atmosphere was unbelievable and
    being able to be a part of that was special. Then winning the game and advancing to the state title game for the
    first time in 20 years, it’s something that I will never forget.”

    Ethan Winter is a senior multimedia sports journalist at the Daily News. He can be reached at 508-626-3987 or
    ewinter@wickedlocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @EWints. Sign up for the Sports Headlines Newsletter, which is
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