Second Half Rally Provides FHS EMass Championship
By: Rich Maclone
Paul Lundberg didn’t know what to say at halftime. His team had played just about as poorly as it could have over the first two quarters of last night’s EMass championship game.
Not only did the Clippers manage just four points in the first quarter, and 14 for the half, and turn the ball over a dozen times, but they also lost their leader, senior DK Johnson, who sprained his ankle in the opening moments of the game. Things certainly weren’t looking great, but FHS had one thing working for it. Despite its horrible start, the Clippers trailed by just six points, 20-14 at the intermission.
FHS saw the opportunity before it at the TD Garden in Boston and seized it, playing inspired basketball over the last two quarters as they rallied to upend the Salem Witches (18-7), 62-55. Falmouth is now 20-5 for the year and will face the winner of tonight’s game between Central champion Groton-Dunstable (21-4) and Western champs Sabis (21-2) on Saturday afternoon at 4 PM at the DCU Center in Worcester for the Division II state championship.
“The kids believed in themselves. I told the kids before the game that ‘this is a great event for Falmouth basketball, but what’s going to make it special is how you play together, win or lose,” Lundberg said. “They just kept playing and the ball bounced our way.”
All year long FHS has lived and died with its version of the Big Three leading the way. Down from a troika to a duo, John Lavin and Nelson Baptiste picked up their injured cohort and made sure that he’ll have an opportunity to play one more game for the Clippers later in the week. The pair was immense, scoring 25 points each, with Lavin pulling down 18 rebounds and Baptiste hauling in nine.
“We knew we had to step it up for DK, this game was for DK, I can’t believe we did it, we pulled it off,” Lavin said. “Me and Nelson just had to step it up, and our role players stepped it up and we played team basketball.”
Lavin’s emergence in the second half keyed the Clippers’ victory. The big man was held to just two points in the first half, which came on the Clippers’ last possession of the second quarter. In the third quarter he took over. The junior center scored 16 points in the third, dominating every facet of the game.
After Salem netted the first bucket of the second half, the Clippers wrestled control from the Witches, going on a 12-0 run to get the lead. The surge was almost all Lavin. Baptiste kick-started the comeback with a drive for two and then Lavin hit a jumper, from David Kent. Andrew McGill, who was the primary fill-in in Johnson’s absence, then got the ball to Lavin for a lay-up. Baptiste then hooked up the center with a nice feed for a lay-up and foul. The free throw gave FHS its first lead of the night, 23-20, just 2:07 into the quarter.
A free throw by Lavin and then a baseline floater by the big guy put FHS up 26-22 and forced a timeout by the Witches.
Falmouth would go on to outscore Salem 23-9 in the quarter and turned a six-point deficit into an eight-point lead, 37-29.
Lundberg said Lavin’s play was key. “He just came and got the ball. He put his hands up and said ‘give me the ball.’ He kept shooting at the big orange rim and he was making them and then he was going to the basket, and he was unselfish.”
Salem would not go away in the fourth, but FHS held on, making a living at the free throw line down the stretch. The team converted 15 of 22 from the charity stripe in the stanza, which accounted for all but 10 points.
The constant fouling, and bombing away from three-point land, allowed Salem to keep it close most of the way. The Witches got to within six points with 1:18 to play, on a bomb by Raphy Medrano, but a free throw by McGill and then two by Baptiste, with 54 ticks left, made it a nine-point game and FHS held on from there.
“We just knew that we had to step and do what we had to do, and do it for DK,” Baptiste said. “It killed me (not having him in the game), but it gave me more energy, it kept me going.”
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