TOWNSEND -- North Middlesex High School's basketball team will have some serious shoes to fill when senior captains Ryan DeLuca and Francis Philips lace them up one last time at Gardner.
The Patriots narrowly missed out on a chance at districts after falling on the road at Leominster, but DeLuca and Philips have that never-quit attitude, which is infectious to the rest of the lineup. Philips is more of a dynamic leader, who is not afraid to approach his teammates when they are down and give them that vocal push.
Philips over the years has developed into more of a pure shooter, and there will be a lot of memories of him making the big shot that sent the trench into a circus. DeLuca would rather hang in the shadows, get his points and assists and use his diligent work ethic as a motivator.
"They have been with us since day one as freshmen," said North Middlesex head coach Erik Dellasanta. "They both have the leadership qualities in the off-season and during the season. Ryan is just so disciplined in how hard he works in practice each play. With only three seniors, these two guys we have really leaned on their experience and leadership and they brought this team almost to districts, and we are really proud of them."
The pair have been best friends since their freshman year at North Middlesex, and their chemistry on the floor has continued to blossom as the years have passed. Philips and DeLuca play basketball in the offseason whether it is spring or summer league. If there is a hoop and a ball, the duo will be there.
"We have been best friends since our freshman year," said Philips. "It was honestly the saddest moment playing against Wachusett on senior night. He came back on the floor, and said hey this is it. It was a sad thing, we have gone to basketball camps together. We have done it all together since freshman year."
In the season opener against Quabbin, the Patriots earned a victory and played like a complete team. Dellasanta believes that his two captains really showed great leadership in that game.
"I think they both had a sense of enjoyment when we beat Quabbin being it was their team for the first time," said Dellasanta. "We had a complete game out there against a good club, and on senior night they were pleased with how our team played."
The Patriots home court inside Bartlett Gymnasium is one of the toughest places to play in Central Mass. The students are right up on you, and provide an electric high school atmosphere. Philips and DeLuca experienced that feeling for the final time on Feb. 5 in a 78-60 loss to Wachusett. The entire day building up to the final home game of the season, DeLuca and Philips tried to wrap their heads around the fact that it would be the final home game of their career as Patriots.
"Last year I saw the seniors reaction and they were all sad," said DeLuca. "I finally felt it when I gave the rose to my mom and her eyes were tearing up. I was like, 'oh my god it's hitting me.' (Francis) and I were hanging out before the game, and he said it's our last game. I said yeah, but when the time came, it hit me."
DeLuca following graduation will ship off to Parris Island for United States Marine Corps basic training. Deluca comes from an Air Force family and was born on base, so serving the country runs in his blood. Philips plans to study sports management at either Western New England College or Keene State, where he intends to play college basketball.
Philips and DeLuca have worked their way up from the lowest level of North Middlesex hoops at the freshman level, all the way to varsity, where their memories will always live on.
When Bruce Springsteen's classic "Glory Days" plays on the classic rock station inside their vehicles long after the final buzzer has sounded, the two will reflect back to their illustrious high school playing careers and smile.