DiRocco Plays The Hero, Redmen Top LawrenceDec 19, 2014 11:52PM ● By Rick Spencer
Alex DiRocco (3) tossed in 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Lawrence.
LAWRENCE – On the one hand, it’s probably not very surprising that Tewksbury High senior guard Alex DiRocco played the role of hero in his team’s monumental 55-46 away game victory over previously unbeaten Lawrence High Friday night.
After all, DiRocco was named the Player of The Year in the Merrimack Valley Conference’s small school division last winter, and he is a four-year varsity letter winner and one of the team’s captains.
But when you consider all that has gone on in the DiRocco household over the past few weeks, Alex DiRocco’s incredibly clutch 26-point effort against Lawrence may just stand up as the biggest individual game of this season when all the dust settles sometime in March.
DiRocco’s father, Todd, a well-known figure as a referee and coach in area sporting circles, is one of those parents who works overtime to support his kids, and lots of other people’s kids, and rarely, if ever, misses one of his sons’ games. Unfortunately, Todd DiRocco suffered a heart attack two weeks ago and just returned home from the hospital earlier this week. According to Alex’s grandfather, venerable TMHS girls softball coach Leo “Doc” DiRocco, Todd’s prognosis is very good as of now, but that doesn’t mean things haven’t been incredibly rough on the entire DiRocco family, especially Alex.
Yet somehow on Friday, on a night when neither team could sustain enough momentum to claim control of this important early season contest, it was Alex DiRocco who stepped up and made all the difference. DiRocco tossed in 17 second half points, including a run of three straight three-pointers and two game-clinching free throws in the last minute of play, to spark Tewksbury to its third win in as many tries this season. In addition to his 26 points, DiRocco added a career-high eight rebounds, to go along with four assists and five steals in what TMHS coach Phil Conners labeled “his best game ever.”
“This is the first time in my life that he (Todd) really hasn’t been at my games watching me, so I’m always thinking about him out there and playing for him,” Alex said after the game. “The first couple games he was still in the hospital so I was thinking about him, wondering if he was gonna be all right. I was always going back and forth (to the hospital), missing practice, But now he should be rolling.”
After scoring 16 points in the team's opener but just five points against Chelsmford Tuesday night, it seems as though the younger DiRocco is rolling now,as well. Conners was shaking is head in disbelief as he talked about DiRocco afterward.
“He’s a great basketball player, and he just won that game for us,” Conners said. “He’s grown so much as a player. He had a tough start to this season with all that was going on with his father. I don’t think (Todd) has ever missed a game, and now he’s missed three in a row. I’m sure that hurts them both, but for Alex probably the best thing was just to go play basketball.
“He’s got a lot of guts,” Conners added. “Those weren’t easy shots. Kids were stepping up, but he’s always been a shooter and that’s why I always say to him, ‘Shooters shoot. Keep shooting’. With him it wasn’t an if, it was a when. I knew it was coming.”
DiRocco and fellow back court mate Nate Tenaglia each scored six points in the first quarter Friday night, as Tewksbury jumped out to a 19-11 lead after one period. But a chill fell over the gymnasium in the second quarter, and the Redmen mustered just eight points and fell behind, 29-27 at halftime.
But DiRocco took charge in the third period, tossing in three consecutive three-pointers over a two-minute stretch as Tewksbury went on an 11-2 run to take back the lead for good. Lawrence, which had scored impressive victories over Central Catholic and North Andover in its first two games, battled back to in the fourth quarter and closed to within three points, at 49-46, with just over a minute to play. But first DiRocco, then Tenaglia, stepped up to the free throw line and sank both ends of a one-and-one situation to put the game out of reach.
Tenaglia, who had a career-high 33 points Tuesday night against Chelmsford, finished with 16 points on Friday.
“That back court, I’d put them up against anybody,” Conners said. “Those two kids have great confidence. We have the best back court in Massachusetts, I really believe that.”
Conners was also thrilled with his team’s defensive effort against Lawrence, as two prolonged cold shooting spells forced the Redmen to fight hard to protect their leads in this game.
“I thought we played a little wild, a little undisciplined, a little crazy at times,” Conners said. “But on the defensive end I was so happy. They were beating us with transition and our offense was really bad. But then in the third quarter we just buckled down defensively. It was all man. For us to go into Lawrence and play man-to-man and just stop a team like that is awesome. We played c-minus offensively, but defensively we were just locked in.”
Senior forward Henry Roberts added six points off the bench, while junior forwards Justin Derrah and Adam Gajjaoui pitched in with four points each and over a dozen rebounds between them. Senior forward Joe Coskmay had a strong defensive outing and grabbed several key rebounds. “I’m just really proud of our guys,” Conners said. “It wasn’t clean basketball by any means, but the way we fought and the way we defended guys…I was just really, really happy with them.”
The win improves Tewksbury’s record to 3-0 overall and 3-0 in the Merrimack Valley Conference. The Redmen are ranked 17th in ESPN Boston's latest Eastern Mass basketball poll, and the Lancers are ranked 19th. It was the second time in two years that the Redmen scored an important early-season win over Lawrence. Last season TMHS beat the Lancers on its way to a 5-0 start, and went on to finish 14-8, winning the MVC Division 2 championship in the process.
This year, Conners hopes for even more.
“We have the potential to be a really good team,” the coach said. “We can go as far as we want if we work hard enough in practice.”
Tewksbury takes it's unblemished record on the road for a non-league game at Malden on Tuesday.