Merrimack wins Chick-Fil-A tourney in first year

NASHUA – The Merrimack High School boys basketball team needed someone to find someone to take big shots when it mattered most.

The Tomahawks just might have last Wednesday night, at the very least, from the foul line.

Andrew Wojciak made all four free throws he attempted in the final six-plus seconds to help Merrimack overcome a late 3-pointer by Nashua North’s Ronnie Silva and win 41-38 in the finale of the Chick-Fil-A Holiday Tournament, held at Nashua South.

Wojciak finished with a team-high 12 points, and was 6 of 8 at the line, including all six in the fourth quarter. Mike Dudash added nine points and Zak Kerr and Ian Roberts each had six for the Tomahawks. Nathan Hale led the Titans with 12 points and Silva added 11.

"I’ve had a lot of faith in Andrew Wojciak and he kind of went into a shooting slump last year," Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge said. "Now he’s really doing it. I think the more confident he gets, you’re going to see a lot more of him."

The back-and-forth game was in Merrimack’s hands for most of the fourth quarter, but the Tomahawks never led by more than five points. A 3-pointer from Hale pulled North within one, 36-35, with 2:47 to play and that’s where it stood for more than two minutes.

With 31.9 seconds remaining, Dudash made the second of two free throws to put Merrimack up 37-35. The Titans tried to run a play at the other end, but the offense broke down and Silva sank a 3 to give North its first lead since early in the fourth.

"We ran a play and it didn’t work out," North coach Steve Lane said. "We improvised in the set we had and it took Ronnie to an open spot. He’s one of our better shooters. Why not? Let it fly. We’re not going to hold kids back. We’re in the flow of the game, you take advantage of what you get."

Merrimack tried to rush the ball down the floor, but Wojciak was fouled and went to the line for a one-and-one. The senior made them both to put the Tomahawks ahead by one, 39-38, with 6.1 seconds to go.

After each team took a timeout, Silva tried to make a cross-court pass that Wojciak intercepted, and he was fouled again with 1.2 seconds to go. Once more, he made both ends of the one-and-one, and North’s desperation heave was way off the mark.

"We’ve got to build on it," Goodridge said. "We’ve been fortunate to be ahead by quite a lot and we hadn’t experienced that yet, so I thought we faced a lot of adversity down the stretch. These are the types of games you’ve got to learn how to win down the stretch in March. Hopefully, we’ll get an opportunity to get there."

The tournament title is the first for Merrimack in its first year participating, while North takes second for the second year in a row, and third in the last five. Each team had two players named to the all-tournament team, as Merrimack’s Wojciak and Roberts and North’s Silva and Hale were joined by Souhegan’s Jerrell Webster on the team.

Merrimack 54, Nashua South 25

The Tomahawks once again used their defense to stifle an opponent, and this time, it ended Nashua South’s Chick-Fil-A Holiday Tournament championship streak a round early.

Merrimack kept the Panthers in check for the full 32 minutes and advanced to the title game with a 54-25 win over South Tuesday night.

Merrimack got balanced scoring as Roberts had 11 points, Kerr and Cummings each had 10 and Wojciak added eight. But just as important was the defense the Tomahawks played on South’s D.J. Frechette.

After scoring 26 points Monday night against Souhegan, Frechette had just 12 against the Tomahawks, as Wojciak and friends tried to frustrate the Panthers junior every time he touched the ball.

"We were very focused on him," Goodridge said. "He’s a very good player. I think Andrew Wojciak had a heck of a game, not only on Frechette. Defensively, he’s solid all night, and he hit some big shots for us. He was a great player for us. At times, we ran two guys at Frechette. He’s a great player and we dogged him the whole game. We made him work."

The Tomahawks challenged other players to beat them, according to South coach Nate Mazerolle, and no one could.

"They always had someone there on help-side when he received the ball so they were daring someone else to step up and we didn’t," Mazerolle said. "We aren’t executing. A big part of that was that they didn’t let us execute. It was as much their defense as our frustration."

Neither team could do much offensively for most of the first half, as Merrimack led 10-6 at the end of the opening quarter. A layup by Roberts and a 3 by Frechette made it 12-9 Tomahawks early in the quarter and that’s where it stood until Merrimack went on an 8-2 run in the final 2:04 of the second.

The Tomahawks stretched the lead to 16 at the end of the third, going up 37-21, but gave up 10 points to South in the quarter, just the third time all season Merrimack has allowed double digits in a quarter.

"Is that going to happen all year long?" Goodridge said. "It’d be pretty unrealistic, let’s not kid ourselves. Those are phenomenal numbers. I think the last two years, we’ve been the leading team defensively in that state. We played Londonderry as good as anybody last year. That was a good stepping stone. We have eight seniors and 10 returning players."

MERRIMACK 53, THORNTON 34

The Tomahawks played shutdown defense, particularly in the third quarter, when they outscored the Trojans 17-6.

Roberts led Merrimack with 14 points and Kerr added 11 points as the Tomahawks led by as many as 21 points in the second half. Thornton, from Sacco, Maine, got 13 points from Rome Pura, but no one else had more than five.