The North High Polar Bears capped off a historic season on Sunday night at the Tsongas Center in Lowell by defeating Needham 73-64 to become the first Worcester public school basketball team to win a Division I state championship.
Bolstered by a boisterous crowd of 5,000 fans, many of whom made the trip from Worcester clad in black and orange, North closed out a campaign for the ages with 21 consecutive wins. The Polar Bears (24-2) went undefeated in the state this year, winning all 23 of their games in the Commonwealth. The two losses for North came in a December tournament against elite competition in Florida.
The sixth-seeded Polar Bears were making their first appearance in a state title game in 43 years since they lost to a Cambridge Rindge and Latin School team led by NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing in 1980.
Junior point guard Tahlan Pettway led the North offense with a game-high 22 points, including four three-point field goals and connecting on eight of nine free throws. His tremendous poise on offense helped lead a balanced attack. Fellow juniors Teshaun Steele (14 points, 8 rebounds) and Joe Okla (12 points, 11 rebounds) also had solid games on both ends of the floor.
Fifth-seeded Needham scored quickly off the opening tip but never led again as North’s stifling, pressure defense frustrated the Rockets all night long. The Polar Bears took a 33-20 lead into halftime and extended their lead to as many as 17 in the fourth quarter. As they have so many times this season, North simply wore out its opponent with an impressive arsenal of both defensive and offensive weapons.
Coach Al Pettway and his staff have taken this team and the entire Worcester community on a thrilling ride that no one will soon forget. North is the epitome of what the combination of hard work, teamwork and unselfish play can accomplish.
But the most unbelievable aspect of this team just might be that the story doesn’t end here for North—not even close. The future on Harrington Way looks extremely bright for the Polar Bears as they expect to return all five starters to the squad for the 2023-2024 season. Can you say…back-to-back? Let’s go!