NEWBURYPORT — The difference between the Triton (2-2) and Newburyport (3-2) girls programs was evident last night. Playing only two players with any varsity experience, the Vikings lacked the Clippers' physicality, experience and talent, as the home side cruised to victory in the opening round of the Institution for Savings Girls Holiday Basketball tournament 54-26.
Newburyport will look to repeat as tournament champs, facing off against Ipswich in the championship game tonight at home at 7:30 after the Tigers beat Manchester Essex, 64-41. Triton will play the Hornets in the consolation game at 6 p.m.
Right from the opening tip, Newburyport jumped on top of Triton as Beth Castantini went to work, scoring the first six points of the game in the Clippers' 8-0 run to start the game. By the end of the quarter, the Clippers were up 17-6, but the Vikes hung tough, thanks to the Canning sisters, Hannah (9 points) and Jess (9 points), who combined for 12 of Triton's 18 first-half points.
However, with Triton creeping to within seven points late in the first half, Castantini (4 rebounds, 4 steals), who scored a game-high 21 points, sparked a huge 19-2 Clipper run that lasted from the end of the first half all the way through the third, scoring eight straight points at one time by herself to put the game far out of reach, 44-20. All that remained were the fourth-quarter formalities that wrapped a third straight win for the Clippers.
"A pretty good game," Newburyport coach Gregg Dollas said. "Our offense was good in the first half and we didn't play as strong a defense as we wanted in the first half. We let up 18 points, which isn't bad, but we were hoping to play a little tighter defense.
"When they came into the third quarter, they had a better defensive positioning, they did a better job of rotating, a better job of denying, and they were strong," said Dollas of how his team was able to put the game away with ease in the second half. "We're getting there, but there's still a long way, though."
Newburyport was able to capitalize off Triton's inexperienced back court. The Vikings as a team struggled to move the ball and committed 26 turnovers, while Newburyport forced 13 steals that led to many easy hoops.
"It was a good effort by our kids, just I think we were out-muscled. Newburyport was just a little more physical than we were ready for," Triton coach Karen Christian said.
Christian was very pleased with the play of the freshman Canning, who knocked down several open looks for her team.
"Hannah Canning came ready to play," Christian praised. "She's one of our better shooters, she's looking to score, she has a nose for the ball. We can develop that, work on it and down the line get her open even more.
"The night before it was this one and that one, so we're young," said Christian about her team's youth. "I have three kids with varsity experience and one is sitting in street clothes, so it's tough. We're trying to see who can do what on any given night and we'll take it from there. I thought the kids played hard and I wish Newburyport luck tomorrow night. It should be a good game."
Despite the lopsided win, Dollas said his team will need to contain shooters better going forward and need to tighten their rotation if the Clippers are to continue to improve. He also said his team did a better job of sharing the scoring load in the second half after Castantini went to the bench with the game in hand.
"(Beth) had 20-something points, played good defense — that's what we want, we'll take 20 points from her," Dollas said. "But I think more people contributed in the second half. Everyone else contributed and started trusting themselves to take an open shot and hitting it. The third quarter we shared the ball better."
Molly Rowe had a solid performance for the Clippers with eight points, four rebounds, three assists and four steals.