|Scroll to the bottom for more photos, and click any image to enlarge. All photos by Brendan C. Hall.|
WORCESTER, Mass. - Throughout the season, the Nashoba Chieftains have found their rhythm on both sides of the ball after halftime, especially in the third quarter, to pull away from their opponents.
In the Division 2 State semifinal against Longmeadow, it took Nashoba (21-3) a little longer than usual, but the Chieftains outscored the Longmeadow Lancers (18-5) 25-16 in the fourth quarter en route to a 68-58 victory on Monday night at the DCU Center in Worcester.
For the Chieftains, it was senior Andrew Fish who led the charge in the fourth quarter. With Nashoba clinging to a 43-42 lead at the end of the third quarter, Fish scored 9 of the game’s next 11 points, including two three-pointers, the second of which gave the Chieftains their largest lead of the game at 52-44.
Nashoba head coach Danny Ortiz said that ball movement was the key to his team’s ability to pull away from the Lancers in the fourth quarter.
Fish would finish with 16 points, with 11 coming in the final eight minutes.
Longmeadow senior Patrick Abad (12 points, 3 steals) tried to will his team to victory and delay the end of his high school career, twice cutting the Chieftain advantage to just six points, first on a rebound and putback that made the score 52-46, and then on a couple of free throws that cut the Longmeadow deficit to 59-53.
However, the Chieftains put the game away by going on a 7-0 run with under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, capped off by a free throw from junior captain Justin Pierce (15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) with under 40 seconds remaining.
Along with Pierce and Fish, sophomore Connor Ojerholm (16 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks) and senior Connor Jesson (13 points, 4 boards) scored during the 7-0 run.
The Chieftains showed their depth on offense in this game, with four players (Fish, Jesson, Ojerholm, and Pierce) putting up at least 15 points each.
Coach Ortiz said that it was important for the Chieftains to have multiple players step up and score in the state semifinal.
“It’s good for us,” Ortiz said of his team’s balanced scoring, adding that it makes it difficult for opposing defenses, because they can’t focus on just one player.
In the first half, it was Jesson and Ojerholm who stepped up for the Chieftains. Ojerholm opened the scoring with a layup and had a rebound and a putback in the first period.
Ojerholm said that he was expecting to play a key role in his team’s state semifinal victory.
“(Coach Ortiz) told the team to put the ball inside to me, and told me to do whatever I could inside,” Ojerholm said after the game. Ojerholm had a height advantage over Longmeadow’s forwards, and he used his size and skill set to work his way inside when he got the ball.
Ortiz added the the Chieftains knew they had a size advantage coming into the contest, and they wanted to utilize it with Ojerholm and senior center Alex Jacobs as much as possible.
For Longmeadow, it was junior William Echeverria (7 points, 4 rebounds) and Raymond Manzi (8 points) who got going early, as Echeverria and Manzi combined for 13 of their team’s 17 first-quarter points.
Echeverria had the biggest shot of the opening quarter, drilling a corner three at the buzzer, which gave the Lancers a 17-16 lead at the end of the first quarter.
A pair of free throws by Abad and senior Max Robbins (12 points, 4 rebounds) opened up a 21-17 advantage for the Lancers.
After a layup by Ojerholm and a corner three-pointer by Jesson, the two teams went back and forth, with neither team leading by more than one possession until a three-pointer by Jesson and a layup by Ojerholm gave Nashoba a 29-25 lead.
A basket by Abad and a free throw by Harry Levin cut Nashoba’s halftime lead to 30-28.
The Chieftains, looking for a carbon copy of their third quarter in the sectional final against Groton-Dunstable, in which they went on a 14-2 run to take control of the game, opened the second half on an 8-2 run.
Pierce punctuated the run with a three-pointer from NBA range to put the Chieftains ahead 38-32.
Longmeadow responded with a 9-2 run of its own, capped off by a three-pointer by junior Nicholas Mishol (12 points, 4 rebounds), which gave the Lancers a 41-40 lead.
Pierce answered with a three-pointer of his own twenty seconds later, giving Nashoba a 43-41 lead it would not relinquish, and would actually expand upon in the fourth quarter.
This game was the first time that the Chieftains yielded more than 50 points in the tournament, and the Lancers showed the ability to hang with Nashoba longer than most teams were able to this postseason.
In the end, Nashoba’s offensive depth and defense was enough to put them over the Lancers and into the Division 2 state final, taking place in the birthplace of basketball, Springfield, on Saturday. The Chieftains will next take on D2 North champion Brighton.
Going into the state final, coach Ortiz wants the Chieftains to return to their calling card- defense.
“We’ve got to go back to playing defense the way we have been (this season),” Ortiz said after the game.
The Chieftains have a tough task ahead of them on defense, as they face a Brighton team that can score upwards of 70 points per game, including a 91-point performance over Winchester in the D2 North Sectional quarterfinal, and a 94-point performance Monday night against Whitman-Hanson in the D2 Easter Mass final.
Regardless of the outcome, Ojerholm knows that his team will have fun in the state final.
“It’s fantastic,” Ojerholm said with a smile as he talked about advancing to the state final. “It’s a great feeling to be in the state finals.”
Continue below for more photos from Nashoba's big win.