By: Jeremy Leveille
Both Pinkerton and Salem were rumored to be among the top teams in Division I this season and potential Final Four contenders. One of them played like it on Monday night - the other did not.
Pinkerton exploded in the 2nd quarter, outscoring Salem 29-3. The Astros led by 20+ points the whole 2nd half, crushing the Blue Devils 74-28. The biggest key was Pinkerton's active 3/4 court and 1/2 court trap, which forced Salem into over 25 turnovers.
"We came out slow, and were a little flat in the 1st quarter" said Pinkerton senior guard Matt Rizzo, who dropped a game-high 22 points to go with 5 assists and 3 steals. "But we came out strong in in the 2nd quarter. We executed our trap well, got steals and knocked down threes."
Salem actually led 12-10 after 1 quarter of play. But then Pinkerton simply dominated the 2nd quarter. Astros 6-foot-6 senior forward Ben Olson (10 points and 9 rebounds) went up strong for an offensive rebound and finished the put-back. Senior wing Thomas Romick (7 points) made a nice blocked shot on defense and then Rizzo drilled back-to-back 3-pointers from the right wing to cap a quick 8-0 run. Salem was struggling with their turnovers on offense.
After the Astros went up 20-12, Salem senior forward Tim Dodier hit a 3-pointer of his own to end Pinkerton's 10-0 run. Those would be the Blue Devils' only points of the quarter, though. Pinkerton ended the 2nd quarter on a 19-0 run. Junior guard DJ Coletti stepped in to draw a charge for Salem, but then Romick sunk a 3-pointer from the left wing. Another Salem turnover led to an easy layup on the other end by Romick.
Rizzo hit another 3, his third trey of the quarter. Meanwhile, not only was Salem turning the ball over but they were also missing a lot of layups. Then the Astros picked up the pace and looked to run even more, with the buckets now coming at a feverish rate. A layup by Rizzo was followed quickly by a 3-pointer by freshman guard Joseph Merrill from the top of the key and then a slash to the rim for 2 by Brennan Morris (14 points). Pinkerton continued to give Salem problems with their trapping defense, getting deflections and/or steals on seemingly every possession. It was 39-15 Astros at halftime.
"Our defensive intensity was there in the 2nd period" said Pinkerton head coach Peter Rosinski. "We did a much better job of sliding on the back sides of the trap and that's where we got our deflections. We also took care of the basketball better tonight."
The Astros kept on rolling in the 3rd quarter. Salem ran a nicely executed set on a sideline out of bounds play, leading to a layup by Dodier to start the 2nd half. But then Morris drilled a 3-pointer off the catch from the right wing and then Rizzo broke his man down off the dribble, finishing for 2 at the rim. Pinkerton kept getting transition buckets, as Rizzo led a 2-on-1 break, dishing it to Nicholas Bortone for the layup. The Astros' 1/2 court trap continued to cause turnovers. Then Rizzo again attacked off the bounce, using a smooth crossover dribble to get to the rim for a strong finish to make it 52-17 Pinkerton.
Coletti answered on the other end with a 3-pointer. Salem missed some more layups, but then Blue Devils' senior wing Jared Gott added a 3-pointer of his own. Pinkerton continued to get strong production from their bench, as Matthew Anzivino made a nice steal and raced in for the easy layup. The Astros have a few guys (including Merrill, Bortone, Anzivino and Trystan Brown) coming off their bench who would start for many D-I teams. It was 57-24 Pinkerton after 3 quarters. Merrill is only a freshman but he looks very comfortable and fearless out there on the court. Not only that, but he his quick as hell and can shoot it off the catch or off the dribble.
"Joey Merrill is really quick and so is Seth Guilmette" said Rizzo, the team's lone returning starter from last year's squad that lost to Londonderry in an epic D-I title game. "We all work well together, driving and kicking it to each other."
The Astros cruised to victory in the 4th quarter. Rizzo hit another 3 (his fourth of the contest) off the catch to make it 62-26. Pinkerton continued getting steals and deflections on defense. Then they took all of their starters out and rested them for the last 6 minutes of the game. The Astros win easily 74-28.
Pinkerton is now 2-0, with their other win bring a 1 point win over a very tough Nashua South team. It's still very early in the season, but the Astros have to be considered one of the favorites in D-I. And that is pretty impressive considering they have a pair of D-I college recruits who left the program in the past couple years. Luke Rosinski (son of coach Rosinski) transferred to Kimball Union Academy two years ago and accepted a scholarship over the summer to play at UNH. Meanwhile Geo Baker picked up over 10 D-I scholarship offers over the summer, and then transferred from Pinkerton to Proctor Academy. If Rosinksi and Baker were still at Pinkerton it wouldn't even be fair - that team would go undefeated.
Salem did have a solid start to Monday's night's contest. 6-foot-5 senior forward Matt Vartanian finished strong inside for 2, off some good ball movement by the Blue Devils against the Pinkerton zone. Olson countered by connecting on a 15-footer off a drive-and-kick by Rizzo. Olson converted a put-back, and on the other end Vartanian made a nice up-and-under move for another bucket on Olson as the two senior bigs battled in the paint.
Coletti hustled inside for an offensive rebound and flipped it in for 2. Salem again showed some good ball movement against the Astros zone, hitting Vartanian near the foul line and having him either attack the bucket or kick it out. Vartanian finished strong inside, but then Rizzo drove into the lane before hitting a floater. It was 12-10 Blue Devils after 1 quarter of play.