By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — After dropping their last contest against Hamilton-Wenham in a late-game meltdown 49-44 just two weeks ago, the Newburyport boys basketball team returned the favor for an epic 43-42, come-from-behind collision at home last night to kick off their 2013 Division 3 state tournament drive.
“We felt like, if we could defend, we could stay in the game,” said Clippers coach Tom L’Italien. “In the state tournament, offense is always good, but defense is the key. You’ve got to give Hamilton credit. They came in battling and ready to go. They got our best effort. We needed to give them our best effort.”
Seeded sixth in this year’s tournament, Newburyport (14-7) started the evening against the 11th-seeded Generals (10-9) on the defensive after Hamilton’s James Foye (23 points) nailed the evening’s first two points off a steal.
Port’s Adam Traxler secured a rebound next, allowing senior co-captain Colt Fontaine (15 points) to tie things up. Dillon Guthro nailed four more for Newburyport, followed by two more from senior co-captain Ian Michaels (8 points) to give the Clippers a comfortable lead until Foye had four more, followed by two from H-W’s Shawn Kotch. Foye nailed a three-pointer at the one second mark to give the Generals an 11-8 lead to end the first period.
The Generals kept the heat and the lead going as the second period got under way with Foye burning up the court, giving his boys a five-point lead before Newburyport grabbed a time out and a three, courtesy of freshman sensation Dan Baribeault (6 points). Foye remained impressive amidst teammates Kotch and Henry Eagar, however, and the Generals ran up a 25-16 lead exiting the first half.
The Clippers returned for the second half in silence, belying the task ahead. Foye grabbed two from the line to start things off and kept going as his defense grew more and more confident. But, just as Hamilton did two weeks ago, the Clippers began chipping away, courtesy of five timely unanswered points from Fontaine to shave the Generals’ lead to six to end the third period.
Fontaine started the fourth period with two from the line, followed by three from Michaels to trim the Generals’ lead to one; and Guthro nailed two from the paint and one from the line to give the Clippers a two-point lead. Baribeault nailed an arching three-pointer next to put things at 38-33, Clippers. But Foye did the same to shave the Clipper lead to two, then tied things up again.
With two minutes remaining, Fontaine grabbed two from the paint before Foye tied it up again. Eagar stole the ball in the Clippers’ territory next and then sank two to give Hamilton the lead again with 11 seconds to go.
With two seconds of life left in his season, Michaels drove the ball from his net, set up just past half court and hit a screaming three for the win.
“Coach drew up a nice little double screen for me there,” said Michaels. “We had (Baribeault) there who shoots well, so if I couldn’t get off the shot, we’d kick it to him. But I had the shot so I took it and I just hit it.”
“When our season is on the line, that’s the guy we’re going to, right there,” L’Italien said of Michaels. “He took that huge shot and he likes the big moment.”
Michaels said he was glad to return the come-from-behind favor to the Generals to end their season.
“We got payback on Masco and Georgetown. We were ready for Hamilton-Wenham to come in here and get some payback on them,” said Michaels. “They played well. We played well. But to get back the win (tonight) was really good.”