Friday, February 3, 2017

Short-Handed Marlboro Holds Off Nashoba for Mid-Wach B Title

By Jason Siegel (@jasiegel1821)

MARLBOROUGH, Mass. - Even with one of their best players sidelined, the Marlborough Panthers used tight defense and sharp three-point shooting to knock off the Nashoba Chieftains, 54-50, on Friday night in Marlborough.

With their second win over Mid-Wach B and Division 2 Central rival Nashoba (12-3, 4-3 Mid-Wach B), Marlborough (13-3, 7-1 Mid-Wach B) clinched its second consecutive Midland-Wachusett B regular-season title.

Marlborough head coach Scott Bauman called winning Mid-Wach B “a great accomplishment.”

The Panthers had to play their division rival without the services of star junior center/forward Chris Doherty, who has now missed two straight games due to the flu, according to Coach Bauman.

In the previous clash between the Chieftains and Panthers, Nashoba held Marlborough to just two points in the first quarter. In Friday night’s showdown, both teams started out slowly on offense. The first field bucket was a three-pointer made by Marlborough captain Owen Cappadona with 6:10 remaining in the first quarter.

Cappadona paced the Panthers on both sides of the ball, scoring a team-high 19 points and collecting 4 steals. Coach Bauman has been impressed by his captain’s play and leadership throughout the season.

The first-year head coach of the Panthers said that as soon as he started coaching Marlborough, he knew that Cappadona was a “catalyst” for his team.

“(Cappadona) is the engine that keeps us going… He’s doing things on both ends of the floor that keep our mentality and keeps us focused,” Bauman said.

Cappadona credited his teammates, his coach and his home court for his success.

“I was just coming off screens,” Cappadona said after the victory. “Coach (Bauman) was setting up a lot of plays for me.”

Cappadona added that he feels comfortable playing in his own school’s gym, whereMarlborough has not lost a game this season.

Turnovers and tough defense by both teams quelled the first-quarter scoring. Nashoba made only one field goal over the first eight minutes, and Marlborough led 9-4 at the end of the first period.

Both teams began to find their stride on offense in the second quarter. Three-pointers by Ethan Kirsch and Alex Santos gave Marlborough a 17-9 lead.

For Nashoba, it was junior captain Justin Peirce (game-high 21 points) who jump-started his squad’s offense. Peirce’s three-pointer with 3:40 remaining in the second quarter got the Chieftains going.

A couple of buckets by sophomore center Connor Ojerholm (6 points, 6 rebounds), followed by a jump shot by Peirce that beat the first-half buzzer, trimmed the Chieftain deficit to 22-19 at halftime.

In the second half, Marlborough came out on fire. The Panthers poured in 25 points in the third period on seven three-pointers.

Joao Mendes had eight of his 10 points in the third quarter, including a layup to open the second half, to go along with two shots from beyond the arc. Mendes’ second bucket from downtown opened up a 36-21 lead for the Panthers.

Nashoba responded with a quick 7-0 run, reducing the Panther advantage to 36-28. Cappadona scored the next nine points of the contest on three 3-pointers, extending the Marlborough lead to 45-28.

Paul Wydom, who played in place of Doherty during parts of the game, banked in a jump shot at the end of the third quarter to beat the buzzer, giving Marlborough a 47-28 lead as the teams headed to the fourth quarter.

In the previous meeting between Marlborough and Nashoba, the Panthers came back from a 15-point deficit to pick up the win. In the fourth period of Friday night’s game, Nashoba, led by Peirce, looked to give the Panthers a taste of their own medicine.

The Chieftains opened up the fourth quarter on an 16-2 run, with Peirce and fellow captain Nate Mansour accounting for all sixteen of Nashoba’s points over that span. A three-pointer by Peirce with 4:06 remaining in the fourth period cut the Chieftain deficit to 49-44.

While Mansour and Peirce carried the load on offense, Nashoba began to press at the start of the fourth quarter, looking to force turnovers and turn defense into offense.

The press was effective against the Panthers, as Marlborough was limited to 7 points over the final eight minutes of play.

“We didn’t do a great job of handling (the press),” coach Bauman said after the game. “At the end of the day, we did the job just enough to secure the win.”

Bauman added that the fourth quarter was a “learning experience” for his team.

A three-pointer by Santos gave Marlborough a 52-44 lead. Baskets were exchanged by Mansour and Connor McCabe of Marlborough as tension built in the gym. A pair of free throws by captain Trevor Manyak (6 points, 4 rebounds) and a basket by Peirce cut the Chieftain deficit to 54-50 with 51.5 seconds remaining.

The final 51.5 seconds were similar to the first quarter, with both teams getting stops on defense, as the Panthers fought off Nashoba’s furious comeback attempt and held on to win.

Nashoba has now lost twice to Marlborough, and the Chieftains were unable to take advantage of Doherty’s absence. They never gave up and made the Panthers fight for everything they got down the stretch, but they could not solve the Panthers quickly enough to complete the comeback.

However, Nashoba learned that Marlborough can struggle when a full-court press is put on. They have played two good games against the Panthers, and the Chieftains will hope to use what they have learned in order to take down the Panthers, if the two teams meet at some point in the Division 2 Central tournament.

Marlborough showed the ability to defeat a quality opponent without Doherty. They demonstrated good poise and found a way to hang on when Nashoba began making a fourth-quarter comeback.

This was a complete team win for Marlborough, and now the Panthers look to take the next step after clinching the Mid-Wach B title. Marlborough will put their unbeaten record at home on the line on Tuesday when they host Wachusett.

Nashoba will try and return to winning ways on Tuesday when it hosts Shepherd Hill.

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