THP #42: Rolling Along

February 26, 2023 – Worcester, Massachusetts
Worcester State vs Westfield State
MASCAC Championship Game
Men’s Basketball

My daughter Claire was born three days before the end of 2022. My wife Christina delivered via C-section after a stressful induction. All are well. All are healthy. I’m a dad now. I would say I need an adult, but I’m the adult and that’s just something I need to step into.

Fatherhood is excellent. There really is nothing as calming as holding my daughter and having her fall asleep on my chest. I could do without her grabbing my chest hair like a vise, but I won’t hold it against her.

My wife says she feels like her heart is busting out of her with love. When she gives Claire a kiss she gets a massive endorphin rush. I love seeing her smile wholly and completely when she’s holding her.

My feeling is different. Instead of bursting open with love I feel a serenity I’ve never felt before. My body relaxes, my racing mind finally slows, and I feel a calm like nothing else when I hold her. The feeling is a gift Claire gives me everyday.

My way to be the best dad I can be comes back to maintaining my own identity. Becoming a parent doesn’t mean I end the life I had before or pause it for two decades: it means incorporating my daughter into it.

That’s taking her to basketball games. Taking her on walks on balmy spring days. Teaching her to juggle and cook and the difference between different types of sea life. The things I love I can’t wait to share with her, and I can’t wait for her to share things with me.

I never thought I’d be a father when I was growing up. Now I can’t imagine not being one.

Claire is a delight and a wonderful addition to my life. And we still have time to have a moment with Bella.

The Good Eats

My friend Clayton stayed the night before the game and before heading out us, Christina, and Claire had breakfast at the charmingly named Dinky’s Blue Belle Diner, an old lunch car cafe in Shrewsbury.

There had been a sizable expansion though, and we didn’t even sit in the lunch car section.

Clayton bombing the exterior photo

Outside there was a vintage Coca Cola dispenser? Machine? Cooler? I’m not sure what exactly, but Clayton modeled it beautifully.

Inside there was a bar section that wasn’t open. Can’t say I’m feeling “bar” when I go to the diner though.

And right on the other side of the entryway was the original lunch car, and it looked the part.

However the real centerpiece was this comically large guitar hanging from the ceiling. The photo doesn’t do justice to how big and extra that thing was. I’m maybe standing a yard away from it and it’s even bigger than it looks.

That isn’t forced perspective, the guitar absolutely dwarfs the size of the plane.

The main bulk of the restaurant was what you’d expect from a diner of this type. Cozy tables with lots of quirky Americana spread out on the walls.

The menu is a lot. Not only in the “it’s a diner so of course it has options” way but in a literal sense too. Dinky’s has one of the most visually busy menus I’ve ever seen.

I went with the two eggs with meat, home fries, and toast, and then I added the short stack of silver dollar chocolate chip pancakes.

The left plate was excellent.  The eggs were how I like them, the home fries were the type of crispy I like, and sausage patties are the superior breakfast meet. More diners need to have Italian bread in their toast rotation. It’s in the starting five for sandwich breads and it’s just as good as toast.

The pancakes though, were a miss. The chocolate chips were only on the  surface and the surface cracked like a cracker. A bit too overcooked for me but still a good overall meal.

My wife went for Stephanie’s Panwich, which is a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich on pancakes. She separated it and ate it separately but it certainly was a unique sandwich.

On the way out I stopped at the bathroom and this sign was above the toilet. I have no words, but the sign sure does.

Worcester State

Located in west-central Worcester near the airport, Worcester State is the largest four-year college in the city with 5500 undergrads. It was founded in 1874 as the Massachusetts State Normal School at Worcester. It evolved into State Teachers College in 1932 and Worcester State College in 1960.

The main campus got its first dormitory complex in 1973, and it became a university, along with all the other small state colleges, in 2010. WSU absorbed the records of nearby Becker College when it closed in 2021.

The campus has a charm to it with all the brick buildings. The newer buildings are heavy on windows and natural light.

Administration building.
Student center
Ghosh Science Center

The Venue

Opened in 2016, the Wellness Center has been the home of Lancer athletics ever since.

Sleek and contemporary, the building shares a parking lot with the other athletic fields on campus.

Coughlin Field

There’s offices, classrooms, a large fitness center, and even a golf training room inside. I was first here last spring with my wife and some friends for a veggie food festival and the building was transformed into an exhibition hall with dozens of vendors.

There’s even a small concession stand built into the wall opposite the gym. It sells standard concessions fare.

The main competition arena sits around 1,500 people with seats on all four sides and a running track overlooking the floor. And it was packed for this one with an NCAA tournament berth on the line.

The Game

For the third straight season it was Westfield State and Worcester State matching up for the league title. Both of the previous games were Westfield wins out in Western Mass.

This season had been different for the Lancers though. They tore through the MASCAC undefeated, with two wins by 20+ points over Westfield, to cruise into the final with a shot at their first NCAA tournament bid in 29 years.

It took a while for the game to get going. Both teams traded the lead a lot early but had trouble consistently scoring. A little over midway through the first half, everyone started to settle in.

The Lancers were getting the better of it but the Owls, anchored by senior JT Thompson and former MASCAC Player of the Year Brendon Hamilton, played like the reigning two-time champs. Both were named to this year’s MASCAC All-Conference First Team.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t nerves out on the court.

The majority of the half was played in a five-point window, but Worcester, and more specifically Zion Hendrix, blew it open before the intermission.

The Lancers went into the half up 11 and the crowd was hot.

Quick break to highlight two things. First, a group of guys from Worcester State played the role of the free throw brigade, trying to trip up Owls at the stripe. They got high marks for creativity.

Not-so-high marks for Westfield’s Brendan Keaveny, who fell for the classic fake shot clock countdown. The Lancers students caught him with a 3…..2…..1 even though they was five or more seconds on the shot clock.

Keaveny fell for this four times throughout the game.

Even with starting center Ryan Rubenskas battling foul trouble throughout the game, the Lancers played with control….except JT Thompson wasn’t about to roll over.

Thompson single-handedly kept the Owls in the game with a monster 20-point second half.

A Worcester lead that had ballooned to 17 shrank. 15. 12. 10. 7. And the gym started to get stressed.

Only problem was that the Lancers had multiple answers, including MASCAC Player of the Year Aaron Nkrumah.

He finished with 16 points and filled the sheet with eight boards, three assists, and two steals.

But there was Thompson. Even when he was missing he was making things happen. He drew three three-shot fouls throughout the game.

The Lancers kept pushing the lead into double figures and Thompson refused to let them close the show. He poured in shots from around the court to keep the Owls in it.

Westfield needed his play because the Lancers effectively neutralized Hamilton, holding him to four points on eight shots and five rebounds. Other than Thompson, no Westfield player had more than nine points.

Worcester had three players in double figures (Hendrix had 16 and Sam Dion had 11) and dominated the glass 57-36. Erik Bjorn played all 40 minutes and pulled down a video game-like 24 rebounds for the Lancers.

All that together was enough to pull it out and finish the game off in the final minutes.

Worcester State 65, Westfield State 53. Final.
Player of the Game: JT Thompson (Westfield State) – 29 points
Time of Game: 1:33:07

Worcester State would lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament the following week to Middlebury 76-51.

Being at this game brought back a lot of great memories. I grew up in the MASCAC. Around the turn of the century I was a regular at Salem State games with my father back when they were a national player. Salem dominated the league and Worcester didn’t even qualify as an afterthought. The Lancers were brutal every year.

So to see Worcester run the table on the conference and win the league was a treat, especially now that I call the city home.

I also loved being back in a big MASCAC crowd. The league is all small state universities. These schools aren’t nationally ranked but provide an excellent education for people looking to take that next step in their future. And there’s a chip on the shoulder of the players and it carries over into the crowds. There’s an energy, a desire to puff the chest, that bleeds into everything. It’s inspiring to be a part of and makes for a hot crowd at big games like these.

Thanks for reading. In honor of spring break, here’s one for the road.