SHEFFIELD — All day long, there was a buzz.
At a place like Berkshire School where students have hefty academic loads to go with other extracurricular activities, getting a buzz for a basketball game isn't always easy to do. It does get a lot easier when the nation's No. 8 prep school team comes to play.
"It was crazy. Everywhere you go, you hear good luck, you hear go get them," Berkshire School's Josh Bernstein said after the Bears dropped a 64-48 decision to eighth-ranked Wilbraham and Monson Friday night. "It's not just your friends, it's your teachers, your advisor, your head of school. It's good knowing that no matter what the outcome, everyone's united."
Bernstein is a member of the class of 2022. The 6-foot-10 frontcourt player is heading to Division III Tufts next fall. He had 14 point and a team-high nine rebounds. Matt Devine, a member of the class of 2023, had 17 points to lead the Bears. Devine came to Berkshire from Wilbraham, where he played at Minnechaug Regional.
"It was exciting to have an atmosphere like that in our gym," second-year Berkshire School coach Jeff Depelteau said after the game. "It was great to see all of our students out there. It kind of felt like we had a sixth man out there at times, which is really helpful when you have that much size and talent on the other side of the court. I thought we showed a lot at times, that we can hang with the best teams out there."
Wilbraham and Monson, fresh off a 74-42 win over Life Christian Academy in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's Hoophall Classic, walked into the gym with three of the top 50 prospects in New England in brothers Kyle and Matt Filipowski and Deven Austin. Kyle Filipowski is the top prospect in New England and the No. 5 prospect in the country according to ESPN.com. He has signed his National Letter of Intent to play at Duke. Matt is the No. 21 prospect in New England and is heading for Harvard, while No. 45 prospect Austin is bound for Princeton.
Austin had a game-high 22 points for the Titans, while Kyle Filipowski had 19 points and a game-best 14 rebounds. His brother Matt finished with 11 points.
Bernstein, who matched the Filipowskis in height, said he was happy to have had the challenge.
"Honestly, I just wanted to take the opportunity. I probably will never play somebody of that caliber again, unless I transfer to a high D-I," he said. "I just wanted to show what I could do. I'm not going to get that chance again, probably, so I wanted to make the most of it."
The Bears led by as many as five points on one of two 3-point hoops by Alex Justh that made it 12-7, with just under six minutes gone in the opening half.
Back-to-back baskets by Austen, both coming off assists by Kyle Filipowski, gave the Titans a 19-18 lead with 6:03 left in the 16-minute first half. Justh answered with a trey, putting Berkshire up 21-19.
Austin tied the game with a hoop, the first of eight unanswered points that put the visitors ahead 26-21. While Berkshire did cut the deficit to one point with 2:49 left, Wilbraham and Monson closed the half on a 6-2 run and took a 33-28 halftime lead.
In much of regular-season prep school basketball, games are played before some family members and some students. Friday night, as the game got underway, there was a steady stream of Berkshire School students filing into the Soffer Athletic Center's Bill Duryee Court to watch Berkshire tangle with this year's gold standard in New England prep hoops.
"I think I've accepted that wherever I go people are going to know my name and teams are always going to give their best shot at myself and my team, since the great season we've been having," Kyle Filipowski said. "I'm preparing for college. Keeping my head on straight, keep doing what I'm doing on the court. Stick with my guys and keep that inner circle tight."
Berkshire's Kam Rodriguez who, at 5-foot-9, was the shortest player on the court, snared a long rebound as the second half opened and jetted his way downcourt for two points, making it 33-30. The Princeton-bound Austin answered with a pair of hoops, extending Wilbraham and Monson's lead to seven points.
The Bears wouldn't let the Titans pull away, and when Devine hit a 3-pointer from NBA range with eight minutes left, it was 48-45.
But the Titans popped the balloon with 5:25 left, when Jon Medley found Austin for a dunk. Berkshire scored only four points over the last five minutes.
Wilbraham and Monson coach Mike Mannix was a student manager at UMass when Bruiser Flint was the head coach and later worked as director of operations for Flint at Drexel. Mannix said he knew that this was not going to be a walk in the park, because he said the Bears are trending up.
"Jeff does a really good job with his guys. I like his two big guys [Bernstein and 7-footer Charlie Randall]. His guards compliment them well," Mannix said. "They came out and shot the ball well, they defended really hard and they did some really good things. Jeff, even when he was at Suffield, his guys always play hard, always stretch you out and cause havoc for you."
Depelteau was asked after he spoke to his team if playing the Titans and being in the game until the waning moments was a good measuring stick for where the program is.
"I think we want to be the best version of ourselves," Depelteau said. "Every program in New England is trying to figure out what that is for their school. We really strive for high academic guys who are passionate about playing hoops. We have a great group of guys here. We've talked about building it the right way and starting a foundation that comes from all the details we're working on every day.
"We're getting there."