GROTON -- It was a game for the ages Friday night in Groton. When Groton-Dunstable and North Middlesex get together, you can be assured of one thing: it's going to go right down to the wire. That's exactly what transpired Friday night at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School, as the Patriots edged the Crusaders for the second time this season in a Midland League crossover game, 54-53.
North Middlesex senior forward Bobby Larsen led his team with 13 points and seven rebounds.
"From the get-go it was crazy," North Middlesex head coach Erik Dellasanta said after the win. "Bobby had a monster rebound for us late. The big thing for me is that Bobby played with a lot of aggression tonight. He took the ball aggressively to the rack, which opened up his teammates and himself. It got himself going defensively. I thought Bobby had a nice game out there tonight -- he really did. It was one of his best games."
Groton-Dunstable put North Middlesex on the ropes early on in the first quarter after sophomore forward Corey Romich splashed down a pair of three-pointers to kick-start a 7-2 run by the Crusaders.
However, North Middlesex responded with a pair of three-pointers of its own. Mark Rossia three-pointer to bring the Patriots back within two, 7-5. The seesaw trend continued throughout the first quarter as the two teams traded two point leads on six separate occasions in the quarter. In the second quarter, Mark Rossi (nine points) nailed a pair of back-to-back three-pointers to put the Patriots up, 24-23, early in the second quarter.
Groton-Dunstable rode a 10-2 run to the end of the half, that was highlighted by a pair of clutch three-point baskets by junior Matt Tornaritis and senior Scotty Csaplar (nine points, 17 rebounds), who knocked down a layup late.
Groton-Dusntable carried a tight 18-17 lead into the second quarter. North Middlesex found itself down 37-30 at the half, and Dellasanta knew he had to tweak his defensive schemes in order to slow down Groton-Dunstable's leading scorer, Corey Romich.
"We made a couple of a defensive adjustments at half-time," Dellasanta said. "There were a couple of things we fixed, and our team collectively just got better. That's a team-based thing. I felt we didn't defend well in the first-half, giving up 37 points in the first half is just not our style."
North Middlesex's defense buckled down in the third quarter and limited the Crusaders to just six points. North Middlesex trailed by seven early in the quarter, and Richie Sharp hammered a three-pointer in front of the Groton-Dunstable bench to bring the Patriots within two, 41-39. Twenty seconds later, the six-foot-three Larsen scooped up a pass from Tyler Thomas, who finished with a game-high eight assists, and rattled the cylinder with an emphatic one-handed flush to tie the game at 41-41. Larsen's jam sparked a 6-2 spurt by the Patriots, who led 45-43 after three.
All great rivalries have drama, and in the fourth, there was noting but. With 24 seconds remaining in regulation, Romich drove the length of the floor and netted a layup with his back to the cup to give Groton-Dunstable a 53-52 lead. North Middlesex drove the length of the floor and Thomas was fouled under the basket in the act of shooting.
Thomas swished both free-throws to put the Pats up by one with 15 seconds left. Groton-Dunstable turned the ball over as Tornaritis's pass went out of bounce with eight seconds left. However, the Crusaders had one more chance late, and Gavin Keough was unable to connect on the runner at the buzzer.
"We spotted up and switched all screens and made them go over the top," Dellasanta said. "They did a good job of that. We ended up getting two guys on the shooter, it would've been a big shot, but we contested it quite well."