Friday, December 23, 2016

Marlboro Bests St. John's (Shrewsbury) in Central Mass Clash

By Jason Siegel (@jasiegel)

SHREWSBURY, Mass.- The Marlborough Panthers prevailed over the St. John’s (Shrewsbury) Pioneers, 51-50, in a battle between two of the top teams in Central Mass at St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury on Friday night.

The game was close from the beginning to the end, as neither team led by more than 6 points.

Marlborough (4-0) guard Joao Mendes got off to a quick start, scoring 6 of his game-high 19 points in the first quarter. Mendes also contributed 6 rebounds, 3 steals and an assist for the visiting Panthers.

Tyler Mola set the pace for the Pioneers (3-2) in the first quarter, knocking down 2 three-pointers. Mola finished with a team-high 17 points.

The Panthers led 11-10 after eight minutes of play.

The big men on both teams dominated play in the second quarter. Marlborough starting center Chris Doherty, who provided the Panthers with 18 points, 20 rebounds, 4 blocks, and a presence that deters guards from driving to the basket, scored 7 of the team’s 16 points in the second quarter.

Doherty’s stat-sheet-stuffing performance against St. John’s did not come easy.

“I had to work for everything I got.” Doherty said after the victory.  “I got some offensive rebounds, but (St. John’s) was definitely rebounding good.” Doherty added that he “knew (he) had to make (his) presence be known down low.”

For St. John’s, 6-foot-4-inch junior Sean Burke (10 points, 5 boards) and 6-foot-5-inch junior Hunter Gorgas (9 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals) worked to counter Doherty. Offensively, Burke and Gorgas combined for 9 of their team’s 13 points in the second period.

Pioneer senior Alex Bradley knocked down a jump shot and two free throws at the start of the second half, helping St. John’s tie the game up at 29 with 5:10 remaining in the third quarter.

Mendes responded swiftly for Marlborough, knocking down a corner three to give Marlborough the lead right back.

After Mola answered with a three-pointer on the ensuing possession, Marlborough finished the third quarter on an 8-2 run, and the Panthers led 40-34 as the fourth period began.

Doherty and Mendes took over for Marlborough in the fourth quarter, as the two combined to score all 11 of the Panther’s points in the fourth period.

The Pioneers would not go down without a fight. They scored 10 of the first 14 points in the fourth quarter. A steal and an outlet pass from Burke to Mola for an easy layup tied the game up at 44 with 4:18 remaining in the fourth quarter.

After a strong rebound and putback by Doherty put the Panthers ahead by a bucket, a calm, cool, and collected Mola knocked down two clutch free throws to retie the game at 46.

Marlborough momentarily regained the lead after a driving layup by Doherty, but a rebound and putback by St. John’s senior Cole Stairs (4 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block) made the score 48-all.

With 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter, Mola made two more free throws, giving St. John’s their first lead of the game, 50-48.

After a Marlborough timeout, Doherty made 1 of 2 free throws, and St. John’s clung to a 50-49 lead as tension built in the St. John’s High School gymnasium.

Marlborough’s leading scorer, Mendes, said that good things usually happen when he drives to the basket, and he proved that on the Panthers’ final offensive possession of the night.

Down 50-49 with 21.7 seconds remaining and coming out of a timeout, Marlborough inbounded the ball. The Panthers put it in the hands of Mendes, who delivered by knocking down a driving layup, giving the Panthers a 51-50 lead with 9.3 seconds remaining. A driving layup attempt by Mola rolled off the rim, and the Panthers celebrated a hard-fought win over St. John’s.

“Coach just drew up a pick, and I just drove it, and I laid it up, and it went in,” a relieved Mendes said after the game about his final basket of the night that proved to be the contest clincher for Marlborough.

Both teams showed a lot of heart in this game. Despite trailing by 6 points entering the fourth quarter, St. John’s had a chance to win with 10 seconds to go. Mola took a high-percentage shot that just rolled off the rim. The Pioneers were just inches away from sending their fans home happy for the holidays.

Marlborough played aggressive defense, collecting 9 steals as a team, and moved the ball to create high-percentage shots on offense. Doherty and Mendes stepped up when it mattered most. The Panthers stuck to their game plan, and despite being down by two with 1:13 remaining in the game, they found a way to win in the end.

After two consecutive losses, the Pioneers will look to return to winning ways in their upcoming game on Tuesday at Doherty Memorial.

Marlborough will put their undefeated record on the line in their next game on Thursday at Algonquin.

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