By: Jeremy Leveille
In a showdown between local rivals who both posted strong wins last Friday on opening night, Pinkerton led by as many as 21 points and defeated Salem 74-55 on Tuesday. When you have 4 kids in your rotation who are 6-foot-5 or taller, a pair of guards who can break people down off the dribble and a one of the state's best spot-up shooters you're going to win a lot of games.
Geo Baker played his freshman year at Buckingham Brown & Nichols prep school but joins Pinkerton for his sophomore season and gives the Astros an explosive play maker at point guard. He is definitely a difference maker, and has Pinkerton looking like one of the early favorites in D-I.
"Halfway through last school year I decided to transfer to Pinkerton" said Baker, who finished with 11 points, 9 assists, 5 steals and 4 rebounds. "I wanted to represent my hometown school. We know we have some big men inside and guards who can get to the basket. We have a good team."
David Faulks (6'6") and Caleb Godin (6'5") gave the Blue Devils problems inside, as did Thomas Olson (6'9") and Ben Olson (6'6") off the bench. Baker and Matt Rizzo (10 points) pressured the heck out of the the Salem guards, forcing a ton of turnovers and on offense they created scoring opportunities for themselves as well as their teammates. And then there was Brennan Morris, the 6'4" junior with a deadly shooting stroke who buried five 3-pointers en route to a team-high 17 points. Morris has a compact, fluid shooting stroke, with a high release. You simply cannot leave him open.
"It's been a lot of repetition shooting the ball so it becomes natural" said Morris. "TJ Thompson also helped me. Geo can get by his man every time and that leaves me wide open."
Even more impressive is that Morris was out sick and missed the team's opener on Friday night, so while everyone else out there was playing their second game of the season it was only the first for Morris.
"He couldn't do that last year, he got better" said Pinkerton head coach Pete Rosinski, whose son Luke Rosinski is playing his junior season at Kimball Union Academy. "Same thing with the dunk that Caleb Godin had. He couldn't do that last year either. We have four guards return from last year. They were inexperienced last year but now they're stronger and more mature. This is an unselfish team."
Pinkerton lead this game from start to finish. With all 5 starters on the bench they went on a run late in the 1st quarter to go up 18-8 after 1. Thomas Olson converted back-to-back buckets inside, finishing a layup off a nice feed from Thomas Romick followed by a steal by Samuel Dolan who quickly passed it ahead to Thomas Olson for an and-1 on the break.
From there it was an uphill climb for Salem to stay in it. Blue Devils head coach Rob McLaughlin tinkered with different lineup combinations throughout the contest, trying to find the right mix on the court. The one constant seemed to be 6'5" junior forward Matt Vartanian, who played his tail off all game and finished with a team-high 17 points and 14 rebounds. Vartanian didn't back down at all against the bigger Pinkerton team. He went up strong with everything inside, crashed the boards on both ends of the floor and even showed the ability to take his man off the dribble.
Salem also got strong contributions off the bench from Zach Farah and DJ Coletti. The turnovers went down with Coletti running the point and Farah had some strong finishes inside. Those 2 combined for 17 points off the bench, with most of that coming during the 2nd half.
"You need to give credit to Salem for how they kept battling back" said Coach Rosinski.
Vartanian had an and-1 finish just 8 seconds into the 2nd quarter, but then Morris hit a 3 off the catch to make it 23-11 Pinkerton. Then came one of the many highlight reel plays by Baker, as he made a great dribble-drive move to get by his man and then delivered an outstanding cross court pass to Faulks for a thunderous slam dunk. Morris hit another 3 to make it 28-11 but then Griffin Curtis answered back with a 3 of his own.
Vartanian made back-to-back strong moves to the rim for 2, Matt Lemire came off the bench and hit a 3 for Pinkerton and Danny Nugent responded with an and-1 on the other end. This game was played at a fast pace throughout. Jared Gott hit a smooth pull-up and then Kenny Calabrese converted a nifty reverse layup, as the Blue Devils closed to within 32-24 at halftime.
Pinkerton was really clicking in the 3rd quarter. They were pressing full court on 'D' and, crashing the boards with their giants and fast-breaking on the other end. And Baker was doing literally everything out there. Baker is a fun player to watch, as he plays with a ton of energy and has very quick hands on 'D' which resulted in a ton of steals and deflections. Baker can score but is an even better passer and sees the floor very well. He can also jump out of the gym. Not bad for only a sophomore.
Rizzo made a strong drive before hitting a leaner, but Calabrese answered with a good slash to the rim for 2 of his own. Just seconds later Morris connected on his third 3-pointer of the game. Moments later it was another 3 by Morris. Then Baker stole the ball on back-to-back Salem possessions. On the first one he made a good pass after to Rizzo for a layup and on the second one he hit a smooth mid-range pull-up jumper. Faulks finished strong inside, and the Astros were now really breaking it open 48-28. Baker made another excellent pass in the open court, this one to Thomas Olson for a layup. Pinkerton had their largest lead of the game, 51-30.
Coletti hit a 3 for the Blue Devils followed by an and-1 finish by Farah. Then Baker made another highlight reel play, with an explosive drive, blows by his man off the bounce before gliding in towards the rim, banking in a finger roll off the glass for 2 with a defender all over him. Still, Salem closed the 3rd quarter on an 8-2 run and cut the PA lead to 53-38 after 3.
Rizzo made another good move inside for 2, scoring on a put-back. The on the other end he ripped down a defensive rebound after doing a nice job of boxing out. Vartanian kept giving it his all inside, coming over from the weak side to block a shot attempt by Rizzo. Then Godin (11 points) threw down a dunk in transition and then on the next trip down the floor he hit a 3. Farah converted a layup on the break, and then Vartanian went hard to the rim, got fouled and made 1 of 2 FTs. Salem had the PA lead down to just 10, 62-52 after trailing by as many as 21.
Pinkerton was able to hold off the late Blue Devils rally though, as Morris hit another 3-pointer and then Baker made an outstanding hustle play, diving into the bleachers to save the ball and at the same time knocking it over to Rizzo for another Astros' steal. They went on to win 74-55, as Pinkerton improves to 2-0 on the season.
The Astros are a deep team. They have size inside, play making guards and shooters on the outside. They move the ball well on offense and they pressure it on 'D'. They have lots of weapons. This looks like one of the early favorites in D-I.