Sunday, February 7, 2016

2nd Half Comeback Propels Pinkerton Past Rival Londonderry

Beating the team you lost to in the previous year's title game twice in a week might not completely erase the agony that was suffered, but it can come pretty close. That's the case for the Pinkerton Academy boys basketball team. The Astros lost to arch-rival Londonderry in the 2014-2015 D-I finals.

But this season it's a different story. Pinkerton beat Londonderry 74-51 on Tuesday night in Derry. Saturday afternoon was the rematch at Londonderry in a packed gym - the Astros won this time as well, coming back from a 12 point half time deficit to beat the Lancers 68-62.

Still, Pinkerton insists that this was business as usual.

"It was just another game" said 6-foot-6 senior forward Ben Olson, who dominated the paint to the tune of 14 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocks.

The Astros are now 10-1, and 8 of those 10 wins have been by double digits. They have to be considered the favorite right now in D-I.

"After I got as couple of blocks they were scared to take it in against me" said Olson.

Pinkerton returns 1 starter (Matt Rizzo) and 3 key reserves (Olson, Brennan Morris and Thomas Romick) from last year's D-I runners-up squad. Those four guys combined to score 62 of the Astros' 68 points, leading the way to victory.

It was tied 16-16 after one quarter. Londonderry dominated the 2nd quarter, outscoring Pinkerton 22-10 to take a 38-26 lead at halftime. The 2nd half was all Astros though, as they outscored the Lancers 22-10 in the 3rd quarter. Then Pinkerton started the 4th quarter on an 11-0 run, taking a commanding 59-48 lead. That was too big of a deficit for Londonderry to come back from.

"I'm proud of the way they responded to adversity and executed in the 2nd half" said Pinkerton head coach Peter Rosinski. "The bench stepped up."

The Astros came out of the locker room fired up, and went on an 11-3 run to begin the 2nd half. Morris (game-high 20 points) made a strong drive and finish to get it started. Then Olson hit an 18-footer from the baseline. Then Morris sunk a tough shot off the dribble with a defender (Nate Gaw) all over him. Rizzo (15 points) connected on a 3-pointer and just like that the Lancers' lead was down to 41-37.

Londonderry countered, as sophomore wing forward Matt Corey (game-high 20 points) hit a jumper from the foul line on the other end. Then teammate Jake Coleman (17 points) drained a 3 off the catch from the left wing, pushing the Lancers' lead back up to 46-37.

Pinkerton answered back with an 11-0 run. Olson fought for an offensive rebound and went up strong for the put-back, and-1. Londonderry doesn't have anyone big enough to match up with him. Coleman made a nice block on a shot attempt by Morris, but then Nicholas Bortone hit a 3 from the right wing followed quickly by another 18-footer by Olson. Morris then buried a 3 of his own, capping the 11-0 run and putting Pinkerton back on top 48-46. Cam MacDonald drove and hit a leaner for Londonderry to end the run, and it was tied 48-48 after 3 quarters.

"We just had to get two stops and two scores" said Morris. "Then we had the momentum."

The Astros kept that momentum on their side in the 4th quarter, scoring 11 points in a row. Rizzo made a tough drive, then used a spin move to get in the lane before hitting a leaner, and-1. Pinkerton got a quick steal and Morris zipped a pass ahead to Romick (12 points) for a layup. Olson made a nice block from the weak side. Rizzo drove and banked in a tough leaner. Morris made a strong drive to the rim and finish. Pinkerton's 'Big Four' was taking over. That made it 57-48 Pinkerton with 5:46 left in regulation. Londonderry head coach Nate Stanton called timeout and laid into his team.

"The key on offense for us was not turning the ball over" said Rizzo. "We cleaned it up in the 2nd half."

The Astros lead grew to 59-48. The Lancers' finally ended the run, as MacDonald buried a 3 off the catch. Londonderry put on a full court press, but Pinkerton broke it, resulting in an and-1 finish on the other end by Olson. After dropping 14 points in the 1st half, Coleman was quiet offensively in the 2nd half. Still, he was making plays on 'D', as he blocked another one of Olson's shots. A kid who's only 6-foot blocking a 6-foot-6 kid twice in one game is impressive.

Londonderry kept fighting hard till the end, but the 11 point 4th quarter deficit was too much to overcome. MacDonald made a steal, then dished it to Corey for a layup. This was a breakout game for Corey. He saw very limited playing time last season, but he was definitely a force to be reckoned with in this game. To have as big of a game as he did, playing on such a big stage for a sophomore was pretty impressive.

Corey's layup cut the Pinkerton lead to 63-59 with 1:15 left in the 4th quarter. Rizzo hit a pair of clutch free throws.The Lancers refused to give up,as Gaw drilled a 3-pointer from the corner off the catch to cut the Pinkerton lead to 65-62 with just 52.7 seconds remaining. Bortone hit 1 of 2 free throws, Coleman missed a 3-pointer attempt which would have cut the Astros lead to 1 with 20 seconds left and Pinkerton hangs on for the 68-62 win.

"Ben is coming along" said Coach Rosinski. "He's the best defensive center in the state. Brennan is learning to go to the hole this year. I really believe he can be a Division I college player. He'll probably go to prep school next year."

Romick hit a 3 to get the Astros off to the early 1st quarter lead. Londonderry junior forward Cam Reddy finished in traffic. Rizzo connected on a 3 off the catch. Romick drove and hit a leaner. Lancers sophomore guard Cole Britting (10 points) drove and hit a teardrop over the outstretched arm of Olson. Olson finished inside off a baseline out of bounds play. Britting showed some good hustle, diving on the floor for a loose ball, save it from going out of bounds and knocking it over to a teammate. They got it to Coleman, who drove and banked in a tough leaner over Olson.

MacDonald finished an and-1 and Corey scored 2 more inside, tying it up 10-10 with 3:00 left in the 1st quarter. Coleman then made a nice steal and dove on the floor to secure possession. The Lancers were playing tougher, it seemed like they wanted it more. Pinkerton was playing soft early on.

Olson made a nice block, but Londonderry kept possession and Coleman hit a pull-up jumper from the foul line. Olson continued to be a force in the paint, blocking 2 shots on the same possession, and on the second one he was also able to knock the ball off a Lancers' player and out of bounds. Coleman hit a nice pull-up jumper, pulling up right before he got to Olson. It was tied up 16-16 after the 1st quarter.

Olson tallied 6 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks in the 1st quarter but he sat for most of the 2nd quarter with 2 fouls. As a result, Londonderry attacked the paint and had a much easier time scoring. Coleman hit an NBA range 3-pointer off the catch from the left wing early in the 2nd quarter, as the Lancers took the 19-16 lead. Morris answered by hitting a tough leaner off the bounce. Britting grabbed an offensive rebound and drained a jumper from the foul line. The Lancers had 2 offensive boards on that possession.

Coleman hit another highlight reel shot, driving and connecting on a tough leaner with a hand right in his face. Then Coleman did it again, draining another 3, this time from the top of the key. Corey scored inside, giving the Lancers a 28-19 lead and capping a 9-0 run. Romick ended the run with a tough drive and finish. Corey made a good take and finish for 2 more. Pinkerton threw up an alley-oop for Morris, who laid it in. Corey drilled a 3 on the other end and Britting converted a put-back, as the buckets were now coming at a rapid rate. That also made it two offensive rebounds in the same quarter by Britting, who was the smallest player on the court at only about 5-foot-6. What he lacks in size he makes up for with tenacity and heart.

The put-back by Britting made it 35-23 Londonderry, their largest lead of the game with 1:59 left in the 2nd quarter. Pinkerton called timeout, the Lancers were pumped as they headed to the bench and their fans were going nuts!

Out of the timeout Romick showed good toughness, hustling for a loose ball and then slashing through the Lancers' defense for an and-1 finish. Corey countered by hitting a turnaround jumper, and it was 38-26 Londonderry at halftime.

"In the 1st half we were not valuing the basketball" explained Pinkerton head coach Peter Rosinski. "We were making mystery passes and not playing team basketball."

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