Monday, December 16, 2013

Tavarez Returns, Leads South Past Spaulding in Opener

By: Jeremy Leveille
Once word came out right before the school year started that star point guard Tim Preston was transferring from Nashua South to Lawrence Academy, many people were quick to write off this season's Purple Panther basketball team. After all, not only did they lose Preston (would have been a senior and Player of the Year candidate if he stayed), but they also lost his older brother Jack Preston (now playing for Plymouth State), David Dunham, Dan Auger and Nick Penkala.

For anyone thinking about writing these guys off, think again. Yordy Tavarez has returned for his senior season after sitting out last year. Tavarez dropped a game-high 25 points and the vastly improved Chris Osgood chipped in with 15. South pushed the tempo all game and went 11 players deep. They went on a 12-0 run to start the 3rd quarter and that was the difference. Quinn Connelly (team-high 18 points), Darian Berry (15 points) and Charlie Nevejans (12 points and 12 rebounds) all scored in double figures but it wasn't enough, as South won 67-57 in Rochester in the season opener for both teams.

"Having Yordy back helps a lot, especially when you lose a guy like Tim Preston and the seniors" said Nashua South head coach Nate Mazzerole. "He is our offense. He's our point guard, he just has to learn when to create for himself and when to create for others."

South was the sharper team right from the get-go, jumping out to a quick 9-2 lead. They were pressing full court all game long. Senior Trevor Knight (UNH football recruit) hit a nice turnaround bank shot leaner, then after Connelly made a strong take and finish in traffic the 6-foot-5 Osgood drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing. Tavarez then hit a tough baseline jumper with a hand in his face putting the Purple Panthers up 9-2 and forcing Spaulding head coach Tim Cronin to call timeout.

Out of the timeout Berry set his feet well and buried back-to-back 3 balls (they were buried by Berry). Just like that it's 9-8 South. Now Spaulding is pressing and Berry makes a nice steal in the back court. Spaulding is unable to convert though, and this time it's the Red Raiders having trouble with the South press. 2 straight turnovers by Spaulding (both on steals by Tavarez. On the first one Tavarez makes the layup, but on the next one he is called for a charge (charge taken by Chris States).

The pace picks up even more towards the end of the 1st quarter. Trey Scott (Spaulding's football star) hits a 3-pointer, but then Zavier Williams comes off the bench and hits a 3 of his own for South with just 2 seconds left. It's 18-11 South after 1 quarter.

More fast paced, up and down action to start the 2nd quarter as the teams push the basketball and trade jumpers and layups. Connelly, Dakotah Cappelletty and Berry all score for Spaulding while Robert Smith and Malik Langa come off the bench to score for South (all of their baskets happened happened lightning fast). Then Connelly hits a 3, and Nevejans finally gets on the board for the Red Raiders with a bucket inside and we're all tied up 22-22 with 4:08 left in the half.

Spaulding goes to a 2-3 zone, but Tavarez busts the zone by drilling a 3 ball from the right side, 25-22 South lead. Then comes an 8-2 Spaulding run, as Nevejans goes back to work inside for 2, then 2 free throws by Connelly and layups by both Scott and Connelly. It's now 30-27 Spaulding with 1:30 left in the 2nd quarter.

"That how we play, we have to run" said Mazzerole. "At times it will be like a layup drill and we'll give up open 3's, but other times it will work. We're still a work in progress."

South is able to re-take the lead late in the half, though. Berry got poked in the eye by a South defender while he had the ball. There was no foul call made, and as a result South steals it Williams banks in a shot on the other end. 32-31 Purple Panthers at halftime.

Then South goes on a 12-0 run to start the 3rd quarter, and that turned out to be the difference. How'd they do it? By rebounding and getting steals on 'D', and turning them into quick points on the other end. They got a steal, then the long and athletic Osgood quickly laid it in. Then in the blink of an eye, Tavarez got a layup, then a layup by Knight, then another steal and then Tavarez hit a pull-up jumper at the foul line. Timeout Spaulding now trailing 40-31 with 5:51 left in the 3rd quarter. Out of the timeout though the South run continues. Osgood steals the inbounds pass and lays it in. Then another steal off the press by South, and this time it's Tavarez with another layup. The 12-0 run is complete, it's 44-31 and Purple Panthers were running Spaulding out of their own gym!

Finally Nevejans puts an end to the run, powering inside for 2. Nevejans tried to make it 2 buckets in a row, but Langa came over from the weak side to make a nice block. The good effort by South continued as Tavarez hustled across the court to grab a loose ball, then dribbled once and drained a tough baseline fadeaway jumper. Then freshman Daniel Frechette connects on a 3-pointer from the corner, literally 5 seconds after checking in for the first time all game. South has a commanding 51-41 lead after 3.

Tavarez continues to pour in the points in the 4th quarter, hitting a nice floater in the lane off the bounce to keep the South lead at double digits, 53-43. Berry made a good block, but then Osgood showed versatility and long strides as he took his man off the dribble from the 3-point arc, went to the rim and finished for 2. Connelly was trying to lead a Red Raider comeback, hitting a nice floater to cut it to 55-47 with 5:01 remaining.

Again though it was the Player of the Game delivering, as Tavarez drove into the lane, creating his own offense and hit a leaner. That made it 61-50 South with 2:10 left and a comeback by Spaulding now looked nearly impossible.

The Red Raiders weren't ready to give up yet though, as Berry drilled a pull-up 3 ball. Then Spaulding got a steal, and Scott drove hard to the rim, getting to the line. He hit 1 of 2, cutting the lead to 62-55 with 1:21 left.

South held on from there for the 67-57 final.

A solid opening win for Coach Mazzerole's squad. This will be good for their confidence and to silence any doubters who wrote them off when Preston transferred to Lawrence. As for Spaulding they're a solid team but not as good as they have been the past couple years when they have made back-to-back Final Four appearances. They were playing tonight without junior 6-foot-3 forward Anthony Ciccotelli, whose size, strength and toughness inside would have certainly helped, as well as his scoring and rebounding alongside Nevejans. Not only did he not play, but Ciccotelli was not listed on the Red Raider roster.

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