Despite a fiery, intense, and smart effort, the 2014-15 Division I championship game will go down in Pinkerton Academy boys’ basketball history as a title contest that got away.
PA coach Peter Rosinski and his third-ranked Astros saw a 47-46 victory go to the undefeated rival Londonderry High Lancers in front of a standing-room-only crowd in the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gymnasium last Saturday, March 21.
It was the first state championship game meeting between a Londonderry High and Pinkerton boys’ or girls’ basketball squad in the nearly four decades since LHS came into existence in the late 1970s, and the first state title in LHS boys’ hoop program history. Pinkerton last won a state crown in 2010.
The Astros grasped a one-point lead heading into the final minute of regulation time, but LHS sophomore Brandon Radford sank a shot with 48 ticks of the clock left to make it a 47-46 game. And that’s where the score wound up, despite the Pinkerton crew’s intense efforts to push it back into their favor.
Pinkerton’s superb junior swing man Matt Rizzo got himself free for a three-point shot in the final few seconds, but his attempt clanged off the left side of the rim and bounded away as the final buzzer blared.
“We shot horribly. I mean just horribly. We should have gotten blown out,” said Rosinski. “The fact that we were able to stay with them was really something.”
The Astros were able to keep Londonderry senior star guard Cody Ball from hurting them much, with the St. Anselm College-bound standout limited to five points. But as the Lancers showed all winter, they were far from a one-man show.
“The game plan was to get Cody in foul trouble, which we did, and try to stifle (sophomore guard Jake) Coleman as much as possible,” said Rosinski. “We ran eight or nine defenses and were doing all kinds of junk because they have five very talented offensive players there. Unfortunately, the ball didn’t go down when we needed it to.”
The Astros saw the Lancers run into significant trouble during the first quarter of the game when they committed a handful of turnovers on simple infractions like traveling violations.
Ball of Londonderry and Rizzo of Pinkerton were whistled for two fouls apiece during the first eight minutes, giving both coaches a cause for worry.
But the Lancers owned the second quarter, outscoring the Astros by a 26-12 tally to roll into halftime grasping a 32-22 lead.
The two teams combined for seven, three-point baskets during the second period, with Geo Baker and Tom Romick each sinking one for PA.
Pinkerton put on a defensive show – with plenty of timely offense as well – in the third quarter in outscoring Londonderry by a 13-5 tally to head into the fourth quarter trailing by just a bucket at 37-35.
The Astros attacked the basketball throughout those eight minutes, making it tough for the Lancers to even get as far as the three-point line much of the way.
Londonderry only managed to take two shots – both misses – during the first four minutes of the third stanza, and the Lancers watched their opponent net the first 13 points of the quarter before Joey Kwiatkowski nailed a three-pointer with just 1:20 to go in the period to knot the score at 35-35 after PA had snagged a small lead.
Marc Corey’s late bucket put the Lancers back up at 37-35, and that’s where the score stood as the fans of both squads readied themselves for an intense final eight minutes of action, and possibly overtime.
Londonderry maintained small leads through most of the first four minutes of the final stanza, but PA sophomore point-guard Baker – who netted 33 huge points in his team’s semifinal win over Nashua North – sank a big trey with 4:15 to go to put the Astros up 42-41.
The score would then change hands a handful of times before Brandon Radford’s clutch, game-winning lay-up in the last minute.
The Astros ended up shooting 30 percent from the floor (18-59) in the title battle, while Londonderry was 17-40 for 42 percent. The champs were led by 17 points from Corey and 16 points and 11 boards from youngster Coleman.
On their own score sheet, Rizzo finished with a team-high 12 points, six rebounds, and four steals, Romick notched 11 points, and Baker was good for 10 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
Sophomore star Baker came up huge for the Astros in their semifinal victory over the Cinderella team from Nashua North, netting 22 second-half points and 33 on the night in leading his Pinkerton squad to a 63-58 victory.
“Basketball is a game of runs, and it’s the team that gets the last run that wins, usually,” said Rosinski. “Geo did a great job and hit his shots when they decided to back off and try to stop his driving to the basket. This allowed him to shoot the three-pointer.”
Pinkerton raced its way out to a 9-2 advantage during the first two-plus minutes of play, making the game look very easy as North struggled to get anything going.
And at the end of that first quarter of play, the Astros’ lead sat at nine points at 17-8.
But play changed entirely in the second period as the Titans battled their way to their first lead of the night (24-23) with 2:40 left in the half, and they took control of the contest in the final four minutes by pounding off a 19-0 run during that span. The 15th-seeded Nashuans were up by a 34-23 tally when halftime arrived.
But behind the astounding play of court general Baker – who tallied more than half of his squad’s 40 points in the second half and 14 in the third period alone – Rosinski’s roster had the lead back by the end of quarter three and were able to battle hard in the fourth quarter and snare the win.
Brennan Morris’ three-pointer at the buzzer that ended the third period put PA up by a 48-46 score, but the Titans were back up by two (52-50) within a few minutes.
However, Pinkerton regained the lead at 53-51 on a Baker trey soon thereafter, and the locals never lost the upper hand, although their advantage never really got comfortable again.
Baker nailed eight threes on his 33-point night, and also tore down five rebounds and made three steals. Morris contributed a dozen points and four boards.