Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 13, 2014

Thrill-a-second Warriors advance to North final with win over Everett

By David Willis

---- — The road to the Division 1 North finals passed through Woburn for a nail-biter against Everett early last week.

With the clock ticking down to its final seconds, Andover’s Connor Merinder had no time consider the moment.

With the game on the line, he had to act.

“You can’t think,” said the center. “You just have to rely on your instincts. You have to be aggressive. Once I got the ball, I was never going to let it go for anything.”

With 13 seconds left in the game and Andover leading by one point, Everett’s Timmance McKinney drove to the basket. But Merinder was there to pressure him into a miss close to the basket.

After a Crimson Tide player grabbed the rebound, Merinder was stole the ball out of his hands and held it tight as the clock ran out and Andover clinched the March 4 win, 49-48.

“I knew Connor would be there,” star guard David Giribaldi, who had 12 points, said. “Connor always has my back on defense. He rules the paint and he is a rebounding machine.”

The chance to play in the Division 1 North finals for the first time in more than a decades meant a lot to Giribaldi.

“I have been waiting since the fourth grade to make it this far,” he said.

Added Merinder, “This is everything we have fought for and everything we have wished for.”

Merinder dominated in what was the most important game of his career. The 6-foot-5 center scored a team-high 16 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked a whopping seven shots.

“This guy is the Bill Russell of the MVC,” coach Dave Fazio said after the game, his arm around Merinder. “He was a monster. He was close to a triple-double. He played an amazing game.”

Tied 12-12 after a quarter, Andover began to grab momentum with an 11-1 run to take a 27-20 lead into halftime. The surge continued to start the third, as E.J. Perry IV, Merinder and John Pisacreta all knocked down shots to make the advantage 33-20 midway through the third.

But back came Everett. Trailing 41-32 after three quarters, the Crimson Tide’s aggressive defense began to force Andover into mistakes that led to points the other way.

With a little more than two minutes left in the game, the Tide had cut the Warrior advantage to 44-42.

That was when Perry returned to the court after a brief stint on the bench and delivered a crucial 3-pointer from the elbow. “I knew I had to redeem myself,” the freshman said.

But Everett responded with a pair of buckets. Merinder answered with a lay-up to put Andover ahead 49-46, then the Crimson Tide broke free for another hoop to bring them within one point of the Warriors.

After a missed free throw, Everett rebounded the ball with 13 seconds left and attacked, but Merinder was there to force the miss and grab the final rebound to secure the win.