Fight to the finish
Spectators went to a basketball game Saturday afternoon and a football game broke out.
A physical battle between two Division I boys basketball powers was a back-and-forth affair with almost as many fouls called as points scored.
The 42nd and final whistle of the game came with 10.5 seconds remaining as Merrimack’s Eric Gendron got called for a push off in the Tomahawks’ offensive end. It was his fifth, including a first quarter technical foul, which sent him to the bench along with Mike Conlin (fouled out on technical foul in third) and Mickey Gasper (fouled out in fourth). Trinity’s Brad Rhodes hit one of two free throws to lock up the Pioneers’ 62-57 win on their home court.
Merrimack head coach Tim Goodridge could still take away some positives despite the negative outcome.
“Obviously we got into a little foul trouble early,” Goodridge said, “but I’m really happy with how our team responded. I mean you have Eric Gendron on the bench two minutes into the game with three fouls and you’ve got Shayne Bourque, your next leading scorer, in trouble – and you know, to hang with a good team like that for an entire half and then potentially have a chance at the end, that’s all you can really ask for.”
The loss leaves his Tomahawks at 12-2 – their only losses coming in Manchester versus Central, 62-59, on Jan. 27 and Saturday at Trinity (12-1).
“This is a long season,” Goodridge said. “We’ve got two losses. We went to Central – No. 1 team in the state – we battled them to a draw, and they beat us at the end. Same thing here. You come in to Trinity – one of the bigger and better teams in the state – and as long as we go and take care of business and do what we need to do, hopefully we’ll get another opportunity to play another good team like this again.”
There were 21 fouls called by halftime, which saw the score knotted 30-30.
Bourque (18 points) and Gendron (12) were already in serious trouble for the Tomahawks with four and three, respectively, as Merrimack totaled 12 by the break. Trinity had nine as a team after two quarters, led by game-high scorer Carmen Giampetruzzi’s two fouls and a technical foul against head coach David Keefe just before the break. The Pioneers’ 6-foot-4 senior forward had nine points at the half and finished with 24 for the game, which was a rescheduled contest from Friday night.
Even with the foul troubles, neither team backed off its tight defensive game plan heading into the third quarter.
With Gendron and Bourque on the bench to start the second half, Austin Frazen (18 points) used his ball-handling skills and quickness to get the offense going. The 5-foot-8 junior point guard scored the first two buckets of the third quarter from behind the arc and on a quick darting move to the basket for a layup.
With the 35-30 lead, Merrimack suffered it’s first setback of the second half. Conlin was called for a defensive foul. As he started walking toward the other end of the court he let out his frustration with a loud groan – technical foul called, one Tomahawk out of the game.
Trinity’s Giampetruzzi sunk both free throws to begin an 11-3 run, which closed the third quarter at 44-38 Pioneers.
Merrimack opened the fourth quarter strong off a rebound-putback by Bourque and a Gendron 3-pointer to get the Tomahawks back within one. Giampetruzzi then matched both Tomahawks, scoring on a power move to the hoop for two and then sinking a 3-pointer to extend Trinity’s lead back to six points at 49-43.
With 3:58 to play in the fourth quarter, Bourque drained a 3-pointer of his own to close the gap again at 49-46. Giampetruzzi powered his way back to the net on the other end to keep it a two-possession game at 51-46.
Merrimack received clutch foul shooting down the stretch, including a pair of free throws each from Bourque and Ian Roberts, separated by a smooth reverse layup by Wenyin Gabriel – who then followed up Roberts’ charity stripe visit with one of his two dunks on the afternoon for a 55-50 Trinity edge. Gabriel closed out his scoring with two free throws on the front end of separate one-and-one situations. The 6-foot-6 Trinity junior finished the game with 20 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks.
The Tomahawks kept fighting back. Franzen hit two free throws and Gendron drained his second 3-pointer of the fourth quarter with 46.4 seconds left to get within two at 57-55. Back on the other end, Gasper, who has been wearing a full face-protection mask since taking an elbow to the nose versus Pinkerton on Feb. 7, sprinted back to stop a fast break and committed his fifth foul to join Conlin on the bench.
Giampetruzzi took charge again, hitting two of three free throws in the final 26 seconds to help Trinity to a four-point advantage, 61-57, when Gendron fouled out and Rhodes sunk the final dagger for the Pioneers.
“We battled,” Goodridge said. “You’ve got to give these kids some credit. I mean they come in here and play a fine team like that – I’m proud of them.”