By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — They can get complacent.
Coming into last night at 8-5, the Newburyport boys basketball team hosted Hamilton-Wenham a night early to avoid conflict with the upcoming storm. But it was inside the gym that the real sparks flew late in the game when the Clippers (10-6 overall, 8-6 CAL) looked to have things wrapped up with three minutes to go, but the Generals (9-7 overall, 9-5 CAL) took advantage of Newburyport’s whopping nine fouls to walk away with the 49-44 upset.
“We just didn’t look like we were ready to play,” said Clippers coach Tom L’Italien. “And it’s truly disappointing at this time of the year.”
The evening started a battle with the Clippers’ Colt Fontaine getting his team on the board for two, followed by teammate Colby Morris’ (14 points) first 3-pointer of the night. But the Generals kept up the pace, hanging a point or two behind, and tying things at 10 with a little over a minute to go in the period.
Offense was at a premium as the defenses of both teams continued to be impressive at the start of the second quarter. And for each bucket the Generals sank, the Clippers would do the same. Clipper Ian Michaels (12 points) broke through the muddle at the mid point, racking up six consecutive points, three of those in one heave. Michaels’ fellow co-captain Fontaine grabbed two at the line next, and Morris did the same. Jake Baribeault grabbed two himself to open things up, followed by a pair from Michaels. The Clippers would sail into to half enjoying a 28-24 lead.
The Clippers started the second half off with a 3-pointer from Morris, and the defenses took over, resulting in three scoreless minutes. General Henry Eagar (11 points) broke the stalemate with two from the line, only to be answered with a three from Newburyport’s Dan Baribeault and two more from brother Jake. The Clippers would keep things up behind their heavy defense to open up a 39-32 lead headed into the fourth.
Things continued on par at the beginning of the fourth period, perhaps lulling Newburyport into that false sense of complacency. But the personal fouls on the Clippers’ part would begin adding up, allowing the Generals to come within two late in the game. Then Eagar would tie things up with a little over a minute to go.
Michaels caught a foul, and James Foye (22 points) would put the Generals up one. Two more points from the line would be all Hamilton-Wenham would need to win the night. But they got two more at the line for the five-point lead.
“I think the kids have got to search within themselves,” said L’Italien. “We challenged them at halftime and they responded. But it’s a mental thing with us that’s just not acceptable. With that being said, Hamilton-Wenham played great. It was a hard-fought game. They made a few more plays than we did down the stretch. And they deserve the credit. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to be more mentally prepared. And ultimately, that is what our focus is going to be these next couple of weeks.”
“We knew it was going to be a war coming in here,” said Generals coach Doug Hoak. “They play a tough defense, and we play pretty good defense. I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be a pretty game.”
Now in second place in the division, Hoak was happy to clinch a state tournament berth with this victory as well.
“We had two teams battling it out defensively, and that is how it went,” said Hoak. “It’s just we made some plays down the stretch. They are tough, they go to the boards hard. We’re not that big, it’s just our kids just stepped up really well. We played well down the stretch. It was a great game.”