By: Ross Laorenza
It was a tale of two halves Friday night for the Merrimack Tomahawks. A first half that saw them trailing by 6 at the break, and a second half the saw them storm back and overtake Salem heading into the fourth quarter. When the final buzzer sounded Merrimack was victorious 54-47.
“Any time you go on the road and can beat a Salem at Salem,” said coach Goodridge, “it’s a tough place to play. And we’ll take this win and move on to tomorrow.”
Tomorrow does present a quick turnaround as Merrimack will have to take on a tough Nashua South team in a makeup game. Starting tonight for Merrimack were Austin Franzen (#3), Zak Kerr (#4), Ian Roberts (#5), Andrew Wojciak (#11), and Dylan Richardson (#15). Salem countered with Kenny Calabrese (#12), Zach Farah (#21), Danny Nugent (#22), Jared Gott (#33) and Matthew Vartanian (#34).
Vartanian gave the Tomahawk defense fits early on. His 6’5’’ framed proved to be a tough cover down low and his quick move to the basket was difficult to block. After Kerr opened the scoring, Vartanian tied the game at 2. Following two free throws by Franzen, Vartanian tied the score again.
Ian Roberts was a solution for Merrimack. His 8 points in the first half led the team. Franzen and Kerr found him frequently down low after he had slipped behind the Blue Devil defense. The big difference for Salem in the first half was three point shooting. They hit 3 threes in the second quarter as the pulled out in front. They only hit one for the rest of the game. At the end of the first half Salem leads 27-21.
The third quarter was crucial for Merrimack. Trailing 6 on the road they need to step up their intensity and did so. It was Roberts again, leading the way scoring. He scored the first 5 points of the quarter for Merrimack as their comeback began to take shape. Trailing 36-28 with just under five minutes to play Roberts drove strong to the basket, making it and drew contact. He would complete the three point play to draw Merrimack within 5. After two missed free throws by Zach Farah, Chad Seaver who was also crucial in the comeback cut the lead to three.
Seaver scored all 11 of his points in the second half as he filled in for Franzen and freshman Ian Cummings. After a timeout Salem seemed to gain momentum again feeding the ball inside to Vartanian to put the Devils up 5. But Seaver came right back down the floor with an ankle breaking move to get to the rim and score. A free throw cut the game to a two point lead for Salem, before Dylan Richardson put an exclamation point on the third quarter. Fighting for an offensive rebound he was able to put the tying basket home with 4.9 second left AND drew a foul. His free throw would give Merrimack their first lead since the opening moments of the first quarter. At the end of the third, Merrimack: 39, Salem: 38. Merrimack outscored Salem 18-11 in the quarter.
Jake Giannelli (#33) opened the scoring for Merrimack in the fourth. His defense played a big role in slowing down Matt Vartanian. Salem relied heavily on him in the first half, but he was held to 7 points in the second. Whenever the ball came his way he would be swarmed by Giannelli, Dylan Beaulieu and other Tomahawk defenders.
Merrimack was in the bonus early in the fourth and spent a majority of their time at the free throw stripe in the fourth. Although the only shot 50% for the game (13-26) their lead continued to grow. Holding the Blue Devil attack to just 9 points in the fourth quarter sealed the win for the Tomahawks who improve to 5-3 on the season in NHIAA play. It took a lot of gut and defensive adjusts to pull of the comeback, but in the end they were successful.
Final score, Merrimack: 54, Salem: 47. Ian Roberts scored a game high 16 points for the Tomahawks. Chad Seaver with his solid second half totaled 11 points, (5-11) for the free throw line.
Matt Vartanian finished with 15 for the Blue Devils. His teammate Jared Gott tallied 11 points, including 3 three-pointers.
From Salem, New Hampshire; Ross Laorenza: New Hampshire Notebook