By: Jeremy Leveille
65 was the magic number on Thursday night at Lawrence High School. That's how many points the winning team scored in both semi-final games, as Central Catholic and Lawrence advance to the tourney's title game on Saturday night.
The night's main event was Central Catholic vs. Andover in the first semi-final. It was a great atmosphere for this one. A packed gym of over 1,500 people, including 70+ screaming fans in the Andover student section. Things were just as intense on the court, where Andover came back from down 13 to take a 3 point 4th quarter lead. Central came back to win it 65-63 though, led by senior forward Doug Gemmell (Windham, NH) with 12 points and 8 rebounds.
In the second semi-final the Pinkerton Academy Astros of Derry, NH fell to the host team Lawrence 65-52. Pinkerton fought hard, but the speed, athleticism and depth of Lawrence was just too much for them to overcome.
Both games were played the way the game of basketball is meant to be played - with a shot clock. Massachusetts has it, and it's about time NH emerges from the stone age as well. To say that the shot clock makes the game more fast paced and exciting to watch is a the biggest understatement of the year. Why do you think there was 1,500 people in attendance for a Christmas tournament game? It's not just because Andover/Central is such a big rivalry.
Ok, back to the games. Here's a closer look at tonight's semi-finals.
Central Catholic 65 Andover 63
Andover guard Jack Konevich attempted a buzzer-beating 3-pointer which would have won the game for the Warriors. But the shot bounced off the rim and Central celebrated the win.
"Andover is our biggest rival, we always want to beat them" said Gemmell. "So we were really focused and really worked out there. And as a captain I try to get the rest of the guys pumped up."
The 4th quarter alone was worth the price of admission. Central held a slim 5 point lead at 48-43 headed to the 4th. Senior guard/forward Mike Barry (10 points) was giving the Red Raiders a nice lift off the bench with some clutch buckets late in the 3rd and into the 4th.
Andover wasn't going away, though. They hit a 3-pointer to cut the Central lead to 56-53 with 5:17 left in regulation. Both teams were playing tough, intense, pressure defense. No shots came easy. Then the Warriors drilled another 3, as David Giribaldi connected from downtown to tie the game up 58-58 with 4:00 left. Giribaldi is only a sophomore and has a very bright future, as he also had a number of tough drives and finishes against Central's big front line (which goes 6'4", 6'4", 6'5" with Gemmell, Joel Berroa and Nick Cambio).
After three foul shots by Andover they took a 61-58 lead with just 3:30 left. Then Berroa took his man off the dribble on the right side, got inside and made a big and-1 finish. He missed the free throw, but Central was back on top 62-61 with 2:21 left to play.
Gemmell (who already connected on four clutch FT's earlier in the 4th quarter) then converted a crucial shot inside to increase the Red Raiders' lead to 64-61 with just 1:00 to go.
Andover then tried to get a 3-pointer to tie it back up, and Chris Dunn was fouled shooting a 3. He made the first 2 shots to cut the Central lead to 64-63 but missed the third attempt. Gemmell came up with the clutch rebound. Berroa was sent to the line where he made 1 of 2. Andover had one last chance - they needed a 2 for the tie or a 3 for the win. That's when Konevich's 3-point attempt rimmed out, the buzzer sounded, and Central Catholic had a thrilling victory.
Also playing well for Central was the back court of Tyler Nelson and Lucas Hammel. Andover led 16-11 after the 1st quarter, but Central went on a 6-0 run to take the lead. Hammel was the catalyst of the run, as he was pushing the ball in transition and making things happen. The run continued, with Berroa grabbing boards at will and the Coach Nault's team extending their lead to 39-26 at the half. Andover got strong overall team play, led by senior forward Sam Dowden. They cut into the Central lead in the 3rd quarter, although Gemmell had a very nice turnaround bank shot.
Gemmell will certainly be playing college basketball somewhere next winter. But first he is focused on helping Central win a championship title.
"We just have to stay focused and stay together" Gemmell pointed out the key to a title run.
Lawrence 65 Pinkerton 52
It wasn't quite the packed house as the Andover/Central game, but there was still a very good crowd on hand for the second semi-final between Pinkerton and Lawrence.
The Lancers were the hands down favorite, especially since Pinkerton was playing without one of their starters. 6-foot-6 freshman forward Luke Rosinski (son of head coach Peter Rosinski) was out of the lineup with bronchitis.
While Lawrence did end up winning by double digits as expected, it was NOT easy. Pinkerton only trailed 18-14 after 1, they were only down 29-26 at halftime and only trailed 43-38 in the 3rd quarter.
Leading the way for the Astros was senior forwards Scott Bradley (15 points), Cam Welch (9 points) and Justin Scott (8 points, all came in 2nd half). Also playing well were the back court tandem of sophomore Luke Testa (6 points) and junior Thomas Lennon. While Testa and Lennon didn't score a lot of points, they both did an admirable job of handling the intense full court pressure defense that Lawrence threw at them.
Lawrence went up 7-0 early, but then Welch made a great pass to Testa for a layup. Welch then hit a tough turnaround jumper followed by a 3-pointer. Just like that it was all tied up 7-7.
Lawrence's speed would then become a factor once again, as they took the lead right back. But Pinkerton kept battling, as Bradley made a strong drive and and-1 finish. Andrew Lechner then made a nice put-back for the Astros, who were now down by just 3, 15-12.
Welch and Bradley continued to keep Pinkerton in the game in the 2nd quarter. They were working hard on both ends of the floor, crashing the boards and going up strong with shots inside. It was all tied up 18-18 in the 2nd quarter. Then Welch made another great pass, this time hitting a cutting Jeremy Dietzel for a layup.
Lawrence started the 3rd quarter on a 10-2 run to go up 39-28. They were pressing on defense and running on offense, forcing Pinkerton to make mistakes and getting easy baskets on the other end. Senior forward Tre'von Farley was starting to take over the game for Lawrence. He's a big, athletic kid who is a very tough match up. He took it strong to the rim, and made a big and-1 finish, scoring on 2 defenders.
Pinkerton was still hanging around, though. Welch made another nice pass inside from the perimeter. Justin Scott had a nice 3rd quarter, with some strong finishes inside for Pinkerton. But the Astros trailed 47-38 heading to the 4th and Lawrence only increased the lead in the 4th quarter. The Lancers cruised to the 65-52 win.
Lawrence is a deeper team, as they rotated 8 or 9 guys in and out. They were constantly subbing, keeping fresh legs on the floor. Pinkerton is not as deep. They played their starters most of the game, and other than 6th man Addison Wood the bench saw very little court time. In the 2nd half that was a big factor, as Lawrence was still running hard up and down the floor with plenty of energy whereas Pinkerton was getting tired.
Still, it does appear as though I had underrated Pinkerton in my preseason D-I rankings. I now think they have a pretty good chance to be a top 10 team. Lawrence is better than any team in NH, Pinkerton played against them without one of their starters and still gave them a pretty good fight. The Astros will get better as the season goes on and could surprise some people for sure.