TOWNSEND -- North Middlesex committed 19 turnovers, but they managed to string together a bevy of clutch shots in the fourth quarter to scrape past Leominster, 53-51, in Mid-Wach A action.
The Blue Devils brought the game within one with 4.3 seconds left on a three-point jack by Jake Allain in front of the Leominster bench, but on the ensuing Pats possession, Mark Rossi drained the front end of a one-and-one to seal it for North Middlesex.
The Patriots were led on the score sheet by Anthony DeLuca with 11 points. Francis Phillips and Rossi contributed 10 points each in North Middlesex's first league win of the season. Leominster gave North Middlesex a run for their money in the third quarter, but head coach Erik Dellasanta's bunch weathered the Blue Devils scoring barrage.
"We have been scratching and clawing all season," said Dellasanta. "Leominster outplayed us in that third quarter for sure. How you win games is to let that roll off your back and dive back in the things that make you a good team."
At the end of the first quarter, North Middlesex led 9-4. The Patriots jumped out to a 9-2 run highlighted by three-point baskets from Phillips and Tyler Thomas. A sloppy first quarter left both teams searching for answers offensively, as layups continued to stubbornly clang off the rim.
In the second quarter, North Middlesex tried to pad their lead, but Leominster continued to storm back with vengeance. The Patriots led by as much as six points in the second quarter, following a pull-up eight-foot jumper by center Caleb Baker (six points, 10 rebounds) with 5:30 left in the half.
All six of Baker's points came in the second quarter. Dave Barry gave the Blue Devils their first lead of the game with 3:20 remaining in the second quarter, when he knocked down a three-point bullet from the left elbow to put Leominster up 18-17. The Patriots closed the first half on a 4-0 run, with back to back baskets by Baker and Deluca in the final seconds.
Leominster's Tanner Jackola led all scorers with 17 points. Jackola knocked down a three-pointer early in the third quarter to give the Blue Devils a one-point lead, 24-23 with 6:10 remaining in the quarter. Jakola knocked down another three-point projectile less than a minute later to give the Blue Devils their largest advantage of the night, 29-23.
North Middlesex went on a 6-0 run to tie the game with a key basket by Rossi. Later in the quarter, the Patriots trailed 34-31, and then Philips found his stroke. Philips spotted up in front of "the trench" and splashed down a three-point missile to tie the game at 34-34 with 1:30 remaining in the third.
Phillips penetrated the lane with a layup to give the Patriots a 51-46 lead with 41.5 seconds in the fourth.
Leominster had their chances late in the fourth quarter to take the lead, but Rossi rattled home a clutch free-throw with 4.3 seconds left to send the Blue Devils packing.
"When it's late in the game, you don't want to rely on the chances of making a jump shot," said Dellasanta. "You need to get yourself in and make an earned basket. Francis is a hell of a shooter, but when he drives the lane and drops a shoulder on somebody and clears some space, that's a big-time shot."