Saturday, March 12, 2011

Central Boys Over Salem in Triple-OT Classic

By: Tuesday and Friday

"I could stay here for the rest of the night." This is what one of the officials said to me and others at half court before the ball was tipped to start the 3rd overtime of the Central 57 - 55 Triple OT victory over Salem. It was sad this game had to end. It was sad Salem is not moving on in the playoffs. They deserve to be in the Final Four at UNH next week. So does Central.

The anticipation was high for this quarterfinal match-up at the Simon Gym at Central. These 2 teams had played a close and physical game 2 weeks previous which Central won 47 - 40. In that game Salem controlled the first half by pounding the offensive glass. Tonight, Salem controlled the first half by running on all 8 cylinders. Salem jumped out to a first period lead of 17 - 6 with 4 points each from the inside scoring of Joe Gallant and Mike Lorenz. Two 3's by dead eye shooter Jeff Meisser helped the Blue Devils in the first period also.

Central was cold and stagnant on offense which was helped along by some extremely tight man to man defense by Salem. Central and Salem are two of the best defensive teams in the state. They both play as tight on the other team defensively as physically possible. Both teams use incidental contact to the utmost advantage in gaining an advantage defensively. Both teams know how to get in your face without getting called for a foul.

This defensive state of mind dominated the 2nd period as a combined 10 points were scored. Salem made an interesting decision with a lot of time left in the 2nd period. They decided to rest Gallant while they were up by 8 to 11 points. 6 minutes left became 5 minutes and 4 minutes and so on with out Gallant on the court for Salem. Good strategy in keeping Gallant out and Wickey in with Salem maintaining a solid lead. Salem seemed lost on offense during this part of the game, but Central wasn't scoring either.

3 minutes left in 2nd, 2 minutes left in 2nd and Gallant is still resting. Central finally starts chipping away at the double digit lead and Salem is still searching for offense. The half ends with Salem leading 20 - 13. Double edged sword for Gallant sitting so long in the 2nd? One could say Gallant stayed out of foul trouble and rested while Wickey played and would be more tired in the 4th period. One could also wonder if that double digit Salem lead would have been larger if Gallant played even half of those 2nd period minutes. Strategy can be a nice thing to talk about.

The 3rd period started becoming eerily like the regular season game. Salem in control slowly loses their grip to the Little Green. With 3:55 left a LaCount bucket gave Central their first lead of the game at 21 - 20. The teams traded points for the rest of the period as Salem had a 27 - 26 lead heading into the 4th period.

The first 2 minutes of the 4th had both teams slowing the pace on offense and almost pacing themselves for the extra basketball that was to come. The teams exchanged the lead over the next 3 minutes. Meisser was fouled on a 3 point attempt and canned all 3 FTs to give Salem a 32 - 30 lead with 3 minutes to go. LaCount hits both ends of a 1 and 1 to tie the game at 32. Meisser then hits a big 3 with 2:48 left to give Salem the 35 to 32 lead. Wickey then draws Gallant's 4th foul and makes both freebies to cut the lead to 1 at 35 - 34.

Lorenz scores to give Salem a 37 - 34 lead with 1:55 to go. Gabe LaCount then takes over the next 20 seconds by making 1 charity toss and making a tough runner through traffic to tie it up at 37 with just over a minute to go. Both teams had chances to win it in the last minute of regulation, but were unsuccessful.

Both teams relied on defense to start the first OT as Wickey blocked Gallant Klecan had a steal on Melendez soon after. Defense and tiredness took over the next nearly 2 minutes. With 2:44 Gallant is called for his 5th foul with a charge on Wickey. A Lorenz lay up puts Salem up by 2 with 2:15 left 39 - 37. 11 seconds later LaCount scores a big And 1 drive to give Central back the lead at 40 - 39. Meisser drains an ice 3 pointer at 1:40 to give Salem back the lead 42 - 40. LaCount misses 2 Fts and Lorenz can't secure the rebound on the 2nd miss and he fouls Wickey. It's Lorenz's 5th foul. Now, Salem is faced with the daunting task of playing the rest of the OT without their 2 best big men.

Wickey hits both FTs to tie the game at 42. Ruffen hits a two as Salem's crowd explodes with 40 seconds left. Pelletier drains a 15 footer from the side to tie the game at 44 with 17 seconds left. The Central crowd goes nuts. Salem amazingly didn't even get a shot off in the next 17 seconds. We go to the 2nd OT.

You have to figure advantage Central for the 2nd OT as Salem is with out Gallant and Lorenz. Leave it to a football player to drain some thunder from the Simon Gym air.
A Lacount 2 makes it 46 - 44 early on. A Ruffen 2 ties it up. LaCount hits another shot to give Central back the lead at 48 - 46. A Wickey bucket gives Central what seems like a huge 4 point lead at 50 - 46 with 2:16 left. An even bigger lead when you ask yourself where will Salem get their points. A Ruffen FT draws Salem closer at 50 - 47 with 2:02 left. Both teams don't score for the next minute.

There are certain times in a basketball game where you feel a higher power has taken over the gym. A spiritually religious kind of power. Enter former Salem QB, Matt Cannone. He would probably be scoring option #5 for Salem when they are down by 3 with just under a minute to go. It's a good thing Matt has all those football muscles as he needed every one of them to launch a 3 pointer at the top of the arc. The form he used won't be used in a basketball shooting video, but the ball swished through the net to tie the game at 50 to 50 with 50 seconds left. Perfect symmetry !! Basketball Reverend Cannone has just opened up the spiritual part of this game and we are his devoted basketball disciples.

Salem goes crazy. Central calls time out. Players come on the court smiling at the referees now knowing we are on to something special. The crowd, players and referees all feel it. Neither team scores for the next 50 seconds to poetically send this epic game into a 3rd OT.

Wickey and LaCount take control in the 3rd OT hitting baskets to give Central a 4 point lead. It seems Salem is losing it's grip on the game and missing not having Gallant and Lorenz. Central has a 56 - 52 lead when Meisser has one more 3 left in his shooting arsenal and cans a 3 pointer with 44 seconds left to make it 56 - 55 Central. The Little Green protects the ball well and waits for Central to foul them. Salem fouls Wickey with 22 seconds left and Wickey makes 1 out of 2 FTs to give Central the 57 - 55 lead.

Salem comes down with a chance to win it or send the game into a 4th OT. There is a missed shot and the ball comes between Klecan and Melendez. They battle for the loose ball as if the winner is declared state champ and fall exhausted to the ground with the jump ball. This battle for the loose ball was a microcosm of the 44 minutes of basketball. Salem has one last shot as an off balance 3 by Meisser falls short. Central student body rushes the Little Green players. The Salem players are consoled by the Salem coaching staff.

John Wickey had 21 and Gabe LaCount had 19 to lead Central. LaCount scored all of his points in the 2nd half and OTs. What a combo these 2 were. Jeff Meisser lead Salem with 23 points. Ruffen, Lorenz and Gallant each had 8 points.

I know the record will show Central was the winner and Salem was the loser in this game. Let the record show both teams won my basketball heart and my basketball mind from 7:00 to 9:00 pm on Friday March 11th at the Central gym in Manchester. You see, this happens when two teams never give up and never say die for 44 minutes of play and leave every ounce of basketball being on the court. Thank you Central. Thank you Salem. Both winners in my book.

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