Saturday, March 11, 2017

Nashoba Pulls Away from Rival Groton-Dunstable to win D2 Central

By Jason Siegel (@jasiegel1821)

WORCESTER, Mass. - The Midland Wachusett B League was arguably the best league in Central Mass and, perhaps, one of the deepest in the state this season. Four of the five teams (Westborough, regular-season league champion Marlborough, Nashoba, and Groton-Dunstable) qualified for the MIAA Division 2 Central State tournament.

Mid-Wach B was well represented in the sectional final, with Nashoba and Groton-Dunstable facing off for a chance to win a sectional tournament and advance to the state semifinal.

On Saturday night at WPI, the Nashoba Chieftains (20-3) took down the Groton-Dunstable Crusaders (19-4), 59-47, giving Nashoba its first sectional tournament title since 1977.

Nashoba head coach Danny Ortiz said that his team’s sectional title is special for everyone who is affiliated with the Chieftains.

“It’s special for the community,” Ortiz said after the win, adding that he hopes Nashoba can win more sectional titles in the years to come.

The Chieftains had Groton-Dunstable’s number this season, as Nashoba won all three contests against the Crusaders and handed G-D three of its four losses.

Despite having lost to Nashoba twice earlier in the season, Groton-Dunstable hung right with the Chieftains in the first half.

Senior captain Tyler LeClerc, who scored a game-high 18 points, most of which came on shots outside of the paint, scored four points in the first period on a steal and a layup and a pullup jumper.

Nashoba senior Andrew Fish also came out firing, scoring four points in the first period on a couple of jump shots. Fish finished with a team-high 15 points.

The two teams were tied at eight after the first eight minutes of play.

The Crusaders opened the second quarter on a 13-4 run, led by LeClerc and senior captain Gavin Keough, who ended his high school basketball career with a double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds). LeClerc and Keough combined for 11 points over that span.

Keough began the run with a three-pointer and a pair of free throws, and LeClerc hit a pair of jump shots to put the Crusaders ahead 21-14.

Even though Nashoba had beaten the Crusaders twice before, coach Ortiz knew the game would not be easy for his team.

“(Groton-Dunstable) is a tough team,” he said after the victory. “They’re well coached, they have good players…. (The Crusaders) are one of the best teams in Central Mass.”

Nashoba did not allow the game to get out of hand, closing the second quarter on an 8-3 run over the final 2:33 of the first half. The Chieftains cut Groton-Dunstable’s halftime lead to 24-22.

In the third quarter, senior Connor Jesson (12 points) came out shooting for Nashoba, knocking down two three-pointers in the first 2:04 of the third period. The second shot from behind the arc by Jesson gave Nashoba a 28-27 lead.

The Chieftains returned to their calling card of defense for the remainder of the period. After a floater by LeClerc, which gave Groton-Dunstable a 29-28 lead, Nashoba closed the quarter on a 14-2 run and did not yield another field goal by the Crusaders in the third period.

Groton-Dunstable’s only points over that span came on a pair of free throws by Keough.

Nashoba did a great job of closing out on LeClerc, not allowing him to get a shot off and forcing him to drive to the basket for a contested layup or pass the ball to one of his teammates.

The Chieftains have shown the ability to shut opponents down for considerable stretches of games throughout the season. In an earlier game against Groton-Dunstable, Nashoba held the Crusaders to three points in the entire third quarter.

Nashoba’s stout defense continued in the tournament, limiting Milford to 24 points in 32 minutes, and holding Concord-Carlisle, a team that usually scores upwards of 60 and sometimes 70 or 80 points, to just 45 points in the D2 Central semifinal.

Coach Ortiz said that defense has always been a priority for the Chieftains.

“We pride ourselves on (our defense),” Ortiz said after the game, adding that the Chieftains focus on defense every day in practice.

Senior captain Nate Mansour led the Chieftains on the defensive end, collecting four steals to go along with 10 points and 3 rebounds. Mansour hit a three-pointer early in Nashoba’s 14-2 run that gave the Chieftains a 33-29 lead.

Junior captain Justin Pierce, who finished with 13 points and two steals, led Nashoba’s offense in the third quarter, scoring 5 straight points to open up a 38-31 lead for the Chieftains.

After a layup by sophomore center Connor Ojerholm (6 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) gave Nashoba a 9-point lead, Fish capped off the third quarter with a driving layup, allowing the Chieftains to take a 42-31 advantage into the third quarter.

LeClerc opened up the fourth quarter with a three-pointer, cutting the Crusaders’ deficit to 42-34, but the Chieftains responded with an 8-1 run, with Jesson and Mansour combining for the eight points that put Nashoba ahead 50-35.

After a three-pointer by Keough, the Chieftains scored five of the next seven points, opening up a 55-40 lead and putting the game and the Division 2 Central tournament title out of reach of the Crusaders.

Nashoba will play Longmeadow, the Division 2 West tournament champion, on Monday at the DCU Center in Worcester at 7:30 PM in the state semifinal.

The Chieftains will have to pass two tough tests in order to be crowned the Division 2 state champion, but they showed that they have multiple scorers, including Jesson, Mansour, Pierce, and Ojerholm.

Ultimately, the title chances of the Chieftains rest on their defense, which has dominated opponents throughout the season. It will not be easy, but Nashoba would love to prove that defense does win championships.

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