NEWBURYPORT — Newburyport (13-6) and Pentucket (11-5) have played some instant classic-caliber high school games over the past two seasons, five in all, with Newburyport holding a one-point margin in the lot (264-263).
The Sachems, however, now hold the lead in the series 3-2 after a stirring Pentucket fourth-quarter rally that saw the team overcome a six-point deficit and hold the Clippers to just five points in the fourth quarter in the Sachems win, 55-48.
Newburyport led for most of the game and in fact did not give up its lead until midway through the fourth quarter when Corey McNamara (22 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals) made his first bucket of the second half, a layup, for the lead, 47-45.
McNamara, who was red hot, scoring 17 first-half points, had to duel with his Clipper counter-part Colby Morris (22 points, 3 rebounds), who could not miss to start the game, scoring Newburyport's first 11 points and having a team-high 17 first-half points. But the two combo guards cooled off in the second half and the game became a battle of which team could be more effective inside.
For a while Newburyport's Brett Fontaine (15 points, 3 rebounds) looked as if he were going to be the one to stamp his imprint on the game, burying a deep three-pointer with only four seconds remaining in the third quarter to stake the Clippers to their biggest lead, 43-37. However, Will Angelini (game-high 24 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block) would not let Pentucket slip away, going on a personal 8-2 run against Newburyport to start the fourth quarter and tie the game at 45.
After McNamara's layup, Nolan Dragon made a pair of free throws to put Pentucket up four, but Fontaine hit a spectacular acrobatic bucket with the harm and hit his free throw to bring the Clippers back within one, 49-48. However, despite cooling off and missing many long-distance attempts in the second half, McNamara was clutch when he had to be nailing an NBA-range three with about a minute to go to all-but ice the game for the Sachems. Three more free throws accounted for Pentucket's final margin of victory.
"We were down a little in the second half, they hurt us on the offensive glass," said Newburyport coach Tom L'Italien. "McNamara's threes hurt, but that (final three) was a big one, it was a one-point game. We played good defense on him in the second half. You've got to give him credit, good shooters keep shooting and that's what he did, and we got beat a little on the glass a little bit in the fourth quarter, but I've got no problems with our kids' effort.
"Quietly they've gone 7-1 in their last eight games, so I think they're starting to sneak up on people, but they were 4-4 at one point," said L'Italien, who was minus one of his starting guards, Ian Michaels, out with the flu. "They're playing good basketball, they're well-coached and they know where their bread is buttered, it's Angelini and McNamara and they got Angelini going early in the second half. I thought we played well, aside from a few turnovers, I thought we played really well, and there's nothing to be ashamed of."
The game was really won in the little details for Pentucket, who out-rebounded Newburyport 25-16, also hit 20 of 22 free-throw attempts and played tremendous help defense in the second half.
"We knew at some point we were going to half to stop them defensively and it wasn't going to be in a trap or in a press, it was going to be in our man-to-man defense," Pentucket coach Leo Parent said. "I'm real proud of the way we played our defense in the fourth quarter — a lot of guys stepped up. I thought Parker Kelly had his best defensive effort tonight. That doesn't always show up in the score book, but I thought he did a great job in our switches and trying to deal with the Fontaine brothers, who are a tough matchup for us. Those little things we did in the fourth quarter to hold them to five points, we ultimately knew our defense was going to have to come through if we were going to win this game."
With experience on both sides, Parent said free-throw shooting was definitely a difference maker.
"(Free-throws are) a big part of the game, it always comes down to so many little things especially against a team like Newburyport," Parent said. "We know this is going to be a close game. Every time we play them it seems like it's down to the last couple of minutes. The guys stepped up, Nolan made some big ones in the fourth quarter, Will made a series of big ones in the fourth quarter and those are things we have to do. We think we're a pretty decent foul shooting team and there are nights where that's going to be part of the equation, and tonight we needed every one of them."