Londonderry is one of the favorites this year in Division I, as they are unbeaten so far in D-I play, they beat a tough Bedford team by 20+ and have Player of the Year candidate Cody Ball. But in the semi-finals of the Lowell Spinners Holiday Tournament it was Division III Pelham who made a statement by beating Londonderry in a double-OT thriller 90-87.
Pelham advanced to the tournament championship game on Tuesday night vs. Westford Academy with a chance to make an even bigger statement by beating a Mass team for the title. Unfortunately they were going up against a Westford team that was just too big and too good. The Pythons were undersized at 4 of 5 positions on the floor and Westford played tenacious defense all game - I haven't seen a team deflect that many passes in a long time. Westford's size made it tough for Pelham to score inside, and their outside shots weren't falling either.
"That's why we like coming to this tournament and playing Westford" said Pelham head coach Matt Regan. "Those kids are big, athletic and disciplined. Every year when we play against them it teaches us to be more disciplined."
Pelham battled back from a 13 point 4th quarter deficit to cut the lead down to 3. Westford held on for the 53-46 victory and tournament championship. A tough loss for the Pythons but they played hard all game and represented NH well. Westford is bigger and better than any team Pelham will face this season - the Pythons are still a top 5 team in NH despite having an enrollment of under 800 kids.
"We came back and fought hard" said Pelham senior forward Dylan Silvestri, who who had a strong game with 11 points and 9 rebounds. "With a team that big we had to be physical with them. I don't think there's a team in NH with that kind of size. The experience playing against them will give us an advantage now."
Pelham was undersized vs. Westford but they were the quicker team. The only chance Pelham had would be to spread them out and speed the game up. But the Pythons were never really able to get their transition game going, as Westford controlled the tempo and made it a half court game.
"We weren't getting the rebounds in order to get out and run" said Coach Regan. "They also threw different types of defensive looks at as which slowed us down."
Westford was also a very disciplined team who didn't turn the basketball over, which also made it difficult for Pelham to push the tempo.
Westford 6-foot-7 senior big man Erik McCord was dominant inside and a tough match up on both ends of the floor. McCord (who will be playing college ball at Middlebury) finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. He could have scord even more but shot just 2/8 from the free throw line. Pelham meanwhile also had problems from the charity stripe, where they missed 7 shots in a row during one stretch.
Still, Pelham was able to scratch and claw their way back into the game and nearly pull off the comeback. With 6:20 left in the 4th quarter Westford held a commanding 40-27 lead. But senior wing Ryan Rondeau blocked a shot which gave them a spark, and after the Gray Ghosts deflected yet another pass Silvestri converted an and-1 finish off a baseline out of bounds play. But missed the free throw, which was the seventh foul shot in a row the Pythons missed.
Silvestri kept battling inside players bigger than him, keeping rebounds alive, hustling for loose balls and crashing the boards. On a third attempt he went up with a put-back for another and-1. This time he made the free throw, but Westford was still up 42-32.
Pelham scratched and their clawed their way to within 5, and had the ball with a chance to cut it to 3. They got it to senior 6-foot-5 forward Ryan Cloutier who had a good look inside. Cloutier's shot just barely rimmed out. On the other end Cloutier blocked a shot, but the ball was saved right to Westford, resulting in a quick layup for McCord. Cloutier (team-high 15 points) answered right back though, hitting a 3-pointer to cut the Gray Ghosts' lead to 47-43 with 2:17 left in regulation.
The Pythons get the ball back, trailing 47-43 with 1:52 left. They were trying to get the ball in the hands of their go-to-guy, Keith Brown. However, Westford did a great job of denying Brown the basketball. Pelham wasn't sure where else to go with the ball , resulting in a misses shot. They again got the ball back down 47-43 and again Westford denied Brown the ball. This time senior guard David Rogers tried to reverse the ball, but his pass was stolen by a Westford defender. McCord finished strong inside on the other end, and Westford took a 49-43 lead with 35.6 seconds remaining.
Out of the timeout Pelham looked for a shot but Westford again played great defense to deny any quick looks. 19 seconds ran off the clock, but then Cloutier buried another clutch 3 ball, cutting the Westford lead to 49-46 with 16.2 seconds left in the 4th quarter. Pelham set up their full court press to try and get a quick steal and if not then they had to foul. Instead the Gray Ghosts broke the press and got a layup on the other end, as Scotty Callahan (9 points) sailed in for 2 to make it 51-46 Westford with just 8 seconds left to play, sending the Westford fans into a frenzy. The Gray Ghosts (yes, that's really their mascot) added a pair of free throws in the final seconds to account for the 53-46 final.
McCord was named tournament MVP, while Cloutier made the all-tournament team for Pelham. Fatigue could have certainly been a factor. Pelham played their double-OT thriller in the semis vs. Londonderry just last night, whereas Westford won their semi-final game by 20+ points. The Pythons were playing without key reserve forward Cam Deloretto, who suffered a foot injury a couple days ago.
"I was happy with the way we fought back" said Regan.
This game was played in front of a packed house at Lowell Catholic High School. It was also played with a shot clock, which NH high school basketball badly needs. The shot clock definitely helped to keep a good flow and pace to this game. It also gave Pelham additional possessions late in the game when otherwise Westford would have been able to sit on the lead and force Pelham to foul them much earlier.
The Pythons started off strong with Silvestri bulling his way to the bucket for 2 and then Rondeau blocked a shot, starting a fast break the other way which resulted in another layup for Silvestri. It was 4-0 Pelham, but then Westford went on a 13-0 run, which turned out to be the difference. Callahan hit a jumper from the elbow to give the Gray Ghosts' their first lead, 6-4 (a lead which they kept for the rest of the game). Then thanks to some great ball movement Westford got the ball inside to McCord for a layup. Then Patrick Coffey hit a 3-pointer with just 1 second left on the shot clock. Then there was a battle for a loose ball, which somehow got knocked over to McCord right under the basket for a layup to cap the 13-0 run, as Westford took a 13-4 lead.
Finally Pelham broke their scoring drought, with Silvestri finishing a layup off a dish by Nick Wolfrom to cut the Westford lead to 13-6. It was 15-6 Gray Ghosts after 1 quarter.
Westford continued to control the tempo, take care of the basketball, pack in their defense which kept Pelham out of the paint and forced them to take outside shots and limit the Python's transition opportunities. Jonathan Glidden and Dan Cornelius connected on back-to-back 3's followed by another layup by McCord and it was 24-6 Westford (their largest lead of the game).
Pelham was over-matched by fighting hard to stay in it. Cloutier converted a layup and then on the next trip down he hit a 3. Rondeau hit a 3 of his own, capping an 8-2 run for Pelham and cutting the Gray Ghosts' lead to 26-14. But then Coffey countered with another 3, as he was left wide open with Pelham not able to close out quick enough. Westford took a 29-16 lead into the halftime break.
Brown, who dropped 28 points in the semis and is capable of scoring 20+ points on any given night, was held scoreless in the 1st half. He came out strong in the 3rd quarter though, quickly scoring inside for 2 and then stroking a 3-pointer. That cut the Westford lead to 29-22, as Pelham started the 2nd half on a 6-0 run.
McCord made a strong move inside for 2, but then Rogers answered with an and-1 put-back. Westford countered with an and-1 of their own, as Cornelius drove down the lane and banked in a runner plus the foul. Westford made a shot at the buzzer from 3/4 court which got quite a reaction from the crowd, but the officials ruled the shot wasn't released in time so the basket was waved off. It was 42-29 Westford after 3, and you know how the rest went by reading above.
In the 3rd place game, Londonderry defeated Lowell 72-52.