NEWBURYPORT — Playing against a team of Arlington Catholic's (16-6) caliber in front of their biggest crowd of the season with standing room only by the tip-off, Newburyport (15-7) needed nothing less than their best effort.
Unfortunately, the Clippers just did not have their A-game and their season came to a close in the Division 3 North quarterfinals 61-53.
The Clippers did not look crisp on offense, missing several point-blank layups throughout the course of the game. Shooting just a woeful 36 percent from the line, the Clippers hit just five of 14 free throws compared to the Cougars, who were 16 of 18 at the line — a big difference in the game. And Newburyport's inability to get defensive stops trailing late in the game never allowed the Clippers to put a run together to get closer than five points in the fourth quarter.
"We looked real good early and they tightened it up a little bit defensively on us," Newburyport coach Tom L'Italien said. "We missed some executions, we missed some box outs, we gave up the lane a little bit in the first half and then in the second half I thought it seemed like we just couldn't get anything to fall."
Tied 33-33 at the break after a sensational back and forth first half highlighted by Colby Morris' five three-pointers and 17 first-half points, Newburyport could not get it going in the third quarter. Arlington Catholic began to pull away with a 13-4 quarter, thanks to the balanced scoring trifecta of Kevin Connors (21 points, 3 assists, 2 steals), Matt Woods (13 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists) and Robert Wesoloski (12 points, 9 rebounds), who scored his 1,000th point in the first quarter.
The Clippers would twice get the score as close as five points in the fourth quarter after two more three-point makes by Morris, who finished with eight threes on the day and a game-high 26 points. However, poor free-throw shooting really hurt Newburyport down the stretch, as the team was 0-for-4 in the fourth quarter at the line.
"It just seemed like in the second half we tried to do a little too much with each possession, but give AC credit, they played well," L'Italien said. "(The Cougars) played really good defense, I knew that going in. They play in spurts on offense and they play in spurts on defense, and we missed some execution. But what it comes down to for us is getting enough stops when we need to — we didn't get them, they did, and we wish them well.
"We were 15-7 with one returner back from last year, so we're pleased with the season, but we're disappointed with the loss."
For the Clippers, Ian Michaels finished with 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals; Brett Fontaine had 11 points, six rebounds and two assists; A.J. MacDougall had six rebounds and two blocks; and Colton Fontaine had five rebounds and five assists.
L'Italien thanked his seniors MacDougall, Brett Fontaine and Alex Losh following the end of three good careers.
"Three seniors that just gave us everything all season long," L'Italien lauded. "They sacrificed a lot, and they're just three unbelievable kids. It goes beyond basketball — they're just three unbelievable kids that had a great impact on our program and it's going to be tough not going to practice with them tomorrow.