NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 11, 2014

Rockets, Heat claim 2014 NBBA titles

By Mac Cerullo
Sports Editor

---- — NEWBURYPORT – The Rockets and the Heat captured the 2014 Newburyport Boys Basketball Association Championships during last night’s league finals, capping off a successful season that saw 290 local middle schoolers participate in the popular league.

In the first leg of the double-header, the Rockets held off the Spurs 36-31 to claim the league’s 5th/6th grade championship, and following that, the Heat beat the Sixers 51-44 to win the 7th/8th grade title.

Jerry Wallace, a member of the NBBA’s board of directors, said the first game between the Rockets and Spurs was a tight one that nearly saw the Spurs complete an incredible fourth-quarter comeback.

“The Rockets pulled out to a little bit of a lead, because the Spurs couldn’t hit a basket,” Wallace said. “Then the Spurs made a great comeback, they hit a bunch of shots right at the end, and they just ran out of time and couldn’t pull it off.”

The second game between the Heat and Sixers was much a closer affair that could have gone either way up until the final minute. The Sixers led for much of the game, taking a seven-point lead after the Sixers’ Ashton Clark hit three 3-pointers in a row shortly before halftime, but the Heat fought back and ultimately clamped down on defense to put the game away at the line late.

Clark finished as the game’s leading scorer, dropping 20 points in a losing effort, while Issac French led the Heat with 16 points.

Between the two games, the league honored eighth grader Spencer Ficht as the winner of the 2014 Frank Cousins Award, which is presented annually to an eighth grader who has participated in the NBBA for three years or more and who has demonstrated exemplary character and behavior.

The NBBA’s season runs from November through March, with games starting after the Thanksgiving break. There are six teams in each division, each of which plays 12 games, and once the season is over all of them advance to the weeklong double-elimination tournament.

“They all play,” Wallace said. “The top two seeds in each grade get a bye in the first round and it’s a double elimination tournament so it’s great, you get to play at least two games.”

At the start of each season, Wallace and the rest of the league’s board have a meeting where they rank each player and try to divide them up evenly to make the league as balanced as possible. Naturally, there are often situations where an average player improves a lot over the summer and surprises everyone come November.

“It happens every once in a while,” Wallace said. “It’s amazing, some of these kids go out and play basketball during the summer, they go to clinics and can improve tremendously from one season to the next.”

Wallace said the league gets a huge boost from the Newburyport High School program as well, saying that varsity coach Tom L’Italien offers a coaching clinic to the league’s new coaches, lets players watch his practices and allows the league’s third and fourth graders to play games during halftime of the varsity team’s home games.

Overall, Wallace said that a total of 290 kids participated in the NBBA this season, and he’s looking forward to seeing what the future holds for next year.

Weekend Results

Friday

7th/8th Grade - Celtics 44, Bulls 37. Ralph Woekel with 12 points.

7th/8th Grade - Knicks 42, Mavericks 31. Noah van Schalkwyk with 12 points.

Saturday

5th/6th Grade - Rockets 40, T-Wolves 25. Charlie Gagnon with 12.

5th/6th Grade - Clippers 35, Lakers 27. Alex Lessard with 16.

5th/6th Grade - Spurs 37, Warriors 29. Heath Kennedy with 10.

5th/6th Grade - Rockets 41 Clippers 26. Charlie Gagnon with 10

7th/8th Grade - 76ers 53, Heat 47. Kyle Menard with 18.

7th/8th Grade - Knicks 48, Celtics 32. Noah van Schalkwyk with 26.

Sunday

5th/6th Grade - Rockets 40, Warriors 38. Charlie Gagnon with 12.

7th/8th Grade - Heat 55, Knicks 50. Isaac French with 22.

Monday

5th/6th Grade Championship: Rockets 36, Spurs 31. Finn Whalen with 8.

7th/8th Grade Championship: Heat 51, Sixers 44. Ashton Clark with 20

NBBA Championships

5th/6th Grade:

Rockets: 36

Spurs: 31

7th/8th Grade:

Heat: 51

Sixers: 44