By Jeff Hamrick
---- — The Andover High boys basketball team beat Central Catholic.
Sounds so simple. But after losing 22 of 23 since 2005, it has been anything but simple for Andover High coach David Fazio and his respected boys basketball program.
Andover won the Commonwealth Motors Christmas Classic, 72-68, on Saturday night, which was a cause for celebration.
“It’s an amazing feeling to come out here and play with so much energy and beat them,” said forward Ben Brown, one of only three seniors to see action Saturday night for the Warriors. “It’s like no other feeling.”
Central, which lost to perennial national power St. Anthony’s the previous night, appeared ready to continue its dominance over its border rival, jumping to an 8-0 start before hitting the two-minute mark.
“When you get down like that, we have to look at what we’re doing,” said Brown, who finished with 12 points. “We just had to get into the flow of the game. We were rushing too much. Once we got comfortable, we just kind of took it from there.”
A well-placed early time-out obviously settled the Warriors, who did not have a turnover in the final 6:40 and finished the period on a 12-0 run that provided the lead for good.
“These kids want to win,” Fazio said. “They know it’s a long season and they’re going to get better, but they want to win. I told them the tougher team is going to win.”
The Warriors continued to surge in the second period, scoring six of the quarter’s first nine points, including five by Connor Merinder to open a 28-15 lead. Then a strong start to the third turned a 10-point halftime advantage into a 49-33 lead with 3:38 remaining in the frame.
Andover (4-0) not only responded offensively, converting nine of its 18 threes and 25 of its 52 shots, but muscled up defensively against Raider threat Tyler Nelson, who had scored 45 points his previous two games. With Brown and John Pisacreta leading the way, the Warriors used multiple tactics to hold the returning Eagle-Tribune MVP to 11 points and nine field-goal attempts. He took only four shots after intermission.
“We know Tyler Nelson is a great shooter, and we had to shut him down this game if we were going to win,” said Brown, who caught some needed defensive help on the sharpshooter from Pisacreta. “Coach told me to face guard him, and I just had to put all my effort into it.”
Junior David Giribaldi powered the Andover attack, finishing with a game-high 27, including 17 in the second half as the Raiders continuously fought off Central charges, one of which cut the deficit to 55-54 with 5:58 remaining. Fittingly, seniors Brown and Pisacreta combined to make seven of eight free throws in the final 66 seconds to secure the win.
“The seniors went through the four losses (to Central) we had last year,” Fazio said. “At some point when you’re a senior, you get your opportunity, and you decide. You decide what your legacy is and what your season is going to be. This is just a terrific win for our team.”
Nick Cambio paced the Raider offense with 24 points, including 16 in the second half to keep Central within range.
“I think we just stopped executing on the offensive end,” Central coach Rick Nault said. “When you rely so much of your offense on Tyler Nelson and the team is doing a good job of shutting him down or taking him away, you have to do some other things to get him some looks. And we didn’t do that. We definitely didn’t put the ball in the basket.”
Andover 72, Central Catholic 68
Andover (72): Ben Brown 4 2-3 12, E.J. Perry IV 3 3-5 9, John Pisacreta 1 5-6 7, David Giribaldi 11 1-2 27. Connor Merinder 4 1-1 10, Gabriel Hernandez 2 0-0 6, Jeffrey Dreyfus 0 0-0 0, Ryan O’Connell 0 1-2 1. Totals 25 13-19 72
Central Catholic (68): A.J. Pettway 4 1-2 13, Tyler Nelson 3 4-8 11, Kevin Fernandez 3 2-4 9, Aaron Hall 2 0-0 4, Nick Cambio 10 3-4 24, Anthony Crespo 0 2-2 2, John Homsey 0 0-0 0, Alec Buresh 2 0-0 5. Totals 24 12-20 68
3-pointers: A — Giribaldi 4, Brown 2, Hernandez 2, Merinder; CC — Pettway 4, Nelson, Fernandez, Cambio, Buresh.
Andover (4-0): 22 12 21 17 — 72
Central Catholic (3-2): 13 11 22 22 — 68