By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT -- The Newburyport boys basketball team didn’t start its season quite the way it wanted after a sluggish effort.
The Clippers fell to a big North Reading squad last night at home, 52-37.
“I was a little disappointed, I thought we could have started a little better,” said Clippers coach Tom L’Italien. “I didn’t really sense enough urgency until it mattered. Unfortunately we were chasing North Reading the whole game.”
The story of the night for North Reading was an 18-point game from senior Dan Fitzgerald.
“He’s a kid who was out all last year, and he played like he had a chip on his shoulder because of it,” Hornets coach Joe Casey said of Fitzgerald. “He’s our emotional leader and he worked his tail off in the off-season.”
North Reading’s John Mastascusa started the game off with two quick points followed by two from the line from Fitzgerald to put the Hornets up 4-0. And they would lead for the rest of the game. Clipper point guard Colby Morris followed Fitzgerald’s free throw up with a beautiful three-pointer, but Fitzgerald answered with two more points and the Hornets stepped on the gas as the Clippers looked like a team that needed a shot in the arm trailing 34-21 at the half.
Fitzgerald opened up the second half with three quick points, both from the line and in the paint, to put the Hornets up 38-21. Newburyport’s defense answered back well after that but its offense wasn’t getting it done, still trailing North Reading at the end of the third quarter, 42-27, thanks to two points at the buzzer from Dillon Guthro.
The Clippers showed some grit in the fourth quarter, racking up another 10 points to North Reading’s eight. But the writing was on the wall, the floor and the ceiling.
“To come here and beat this team (was great),” said Casey. “They are going to be in contention for the big title, and hopefully we’re going to be there with them. So, mark your calendars for when they come down to North Reading in January. It should be a (great) game.”
“I really thought the story for us was our defense,” continued Casey. “The intensity was excellent. We knew that they were going to come back at us and they did. We had to keep the ball out of Morris’ hands, which I thought we did a good job of. That’s probably the best defensive effort that we have had in the last three to four years.”
Though not happy to drop his first game of the season, L’Italien saw some signs of hope for the Clippers.
“It was a good learning experience for us. I think it was an eye-opener for some of our kids,” said L’Italien. “Certainly there are some things to build on. Give North Reading credit. They are a good team. I told our kids the other day, regardless of the result, we’re coming in (at practice) on Sunday with the idea of working better. We’ll come in, we’ll work, we’ll get better.”
Ian Michaels led the Clippers for points with 10, and Colt Fontaine had seven.