TOWNSEND -- Tuesday night's Mid-Wach A meeting between North Middlesex and Fitchburg had all the makings of a quality high school hoops game. Drama, quality play and heartbreak all factored into the equation. North Middlesex trailed by as much as 15 points in the third quarter, but battled back resiliently late only to come up short, 66-63.
The Red Raiders had trouble knocking down free-throws after the Patriots were forced to foul. North Middlesex had their opportunities to take the lead late, due in large part to Bobby Larsen's 17-point performance off the pine.
Tyler Thomas led the Patriots on the box score in both rebounds and points, with 19 points and seven boards.
"It just wasn't meant to be," said North Middlesex head coach Erik Dellasanta. "We were fortunate Fitchburg missed a couple free-throws. We did what we needed to do offensively by getting some good shots, knocking down free-throws and stopping the clock. We put ourselves in a position to go to overtime, and at that point in the game that was more than we could ask for."
Fitchburg's six-foot-six star forward/center Charlie Doss put on a show with his game-high 21 points and team-leading five rebounds. Doss provided a large mismatch for the Patriots on the defensive side of the floor with his strong finishes at the rim.
Both teams had trouble establishing themselves from the field in the quarter, as the score was knotted up on six different occasions.
North Middlesex got on the board first in the most unlikely of ways, when Mark Rossi was hammered in the act of shooting behind the three point-arc. Rossi knocked down all three free-throws to give the Pats the early 3-0 lead.
Doss drove the ball the length of the floor and hit a spot-up three-point bomb to tie it. Doss's three-pointer sparked a brief 5-0 Red Raiders run, a run that was stymied by a Francis Philips three-point missile in the corner off a great feed from Thomas to bring the Pats back within two, 10-8 with 4:15 remaining in the quarter.
Austin Lowrey checked into the game late in the first quarter for the Patriots and made an immediate impact with his strong moves between the blocks to the basket. Lowrey backed himself into the lane and went up for a layup off the window to give the Pats a 10-8 lead midway through the quarter.
Jose Hernandez connected on a sprinting layup of a great pass inside from Elijah Kutka to give the Red Raiders a 16-14 lead at the end of one.
The Red Raiders made a statement in the second quarter when they sounded off an 8-0 run midway through the quarter. Fitchburg's run was highlighted by a one-handed jam from Doss, which extended the Red Raiders' lead to four.
Doss capped off the spurt by crashing the boards after a Mitch Snowden miss and kissed a layup off the glass. North Middlesex was able to cut the deficit to five just before the half with 5.8 seconds left, when Lowrey made another strong move with his back to the basket in the lane to cut Fitchburg's lead to 33-28.
North Middlesex trailed by as much as 15 points in the third quarter after Fitchburg's Manny Paytron drained a three-pointer from another area code to extend the Red Raiders' lead to 43-30.
Fitchburg came out of halftime recharged and leaped out to a 10-2 run. Thomas silenced the run with a three-point projectile in front of the Patriots' bench, with 4:00 left in the quarter. Larsen capped off a Patriots late quarter, 7-2 surge with a three-point play the old-fashioned way, cutting the Red Raiders' lead to 56-46.
The fourth quarter was one of greatness. Larsen rippled the twine on a three-pointer from the top of the key off a Philips feed to bridge the gap, 56-51, with 5:30 remaining. North Middlesex would continue to fight their way back, but it wasn't until the final two minutes of the game. The Patriots were forced to foul with under a minute left and sent Payton to the line.
Fitchburg went zero-for-six from the stripe down the stretch, which allowed North Middlesex ample opportunities to push overtime. Phillips tracked down the rebound after a Ryan Deluca miss with 18 seconds left and managed to toss the ball off Kutka in order to get the inbound in front of the NM student section. Hernandez stripped the Phillips inbound pass and dribbled out the clock.