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Your Tewksbury Today

Shocker in Andover -- Redmen Upset Golden Warriors, 63-61

Jan 13, 2015 11:31PM ● By Rick Spencer

Alex DiRocco buries a three-pointer from the corner as Tewksbury upsets Andover, 63-61.

ANDOVER -- Considering how high the odds were stacked against the Tewksbury High Redmen Tuesday night, calling their monumental, 63-61 upset victory over Andover High one of the biggest wins in TMHS basketball history is neither hyperbole nor overstatement.

“It was the biggest win I’ve ever been involved in, coaching, playing, you name it,” said TMHS coach Phil Conners after senior guard Alex DiRocco swished a three-point bomb from the base-line corner with six seconds left in the game to propel Tewksbury to the biggest upset  of the year in the Merrimack Valley Conference. “Especially when you consider all the things we had working against us. It was amazing…just amazing.”

For openers, DiRocco, who led all scorers with 26 points, has been suffering from the flu for several days and was so sick that he couldn’t make it on time for the team bus ride. Junior point guard Nate Tenaglia (14 points) was like-wise battling the flu, and to make matters worse, the Redmen were playing their fifth game in seven days, against a team with an 8-1 record that was ranked No. 4 in the state by the Boston Globe and No. 5 by ESPN-Boston this week.

“When you think about all the things we had working against us --  we had kids throwing up, dead sick, dragging…that was unbelievable,” Conners said. “To be able to gear up when you fall behind in the second half,  at Andover, on the road. The heart, the guts we showed. Five games in seven days. That team’s bigger than us. Number five in the state. It was an unbelievable win.”

The game had all the elements of a high school classic. Tewksbury came out flying, as DiRocco caught fire immediately and scored his team’s first 10 points, staking Tewksbury to a 10-4 lead after three minutes of play. Andover battled back to within two, but Tenaglia heated up and scored 10 of Tewksbury’s next 12 points, and the Redmen led 22-13 at the end of one period.

Forwards Joe Csokmay, Adam Gajjaoui and Justin Derrah got into the act in the second quarter as Tewksbury’s smothering man-to-man defense held Andover to one of its lowest halftime scores of the season, and Tewksbury led, 35-25 at the break.

“Our first half intensity, defensively, was great,” Conners said. “When they ran their stuff they got nothing. It was the best half we’ve played defensively. Easy.”

But Andover was not giving up after just two quarters, and the Golden Warriors threw their own brand of shut-down defense at Tewksbury in the third, holding the Redmen to just eight points in the quarter. Andover super-athlete EJ Perry scored nine of his team-high 19 and 6-4 center Connor Merinder added six of his 16, and the Golden Warriors erased the deficit and led 47-43 going into the final period.

“We had our panic moment in the third quarter,” Conners said. “We played quick offense. We didn’t move the ball. We absolutely panicked.”

Somehow, though, the Redmen survived and gathered themselves. Conners had burned all of his second half time-outs before the final quarter even began, but the strategy worked.  DiRocco opened the final frame with a three-point bomb that made it a one-point game, and it was clear that the gloves had been dropped.

While Perry (eight points in the fourth) did all he could to keep Andover on top, first Derrah hit a critical three-pointer, then DiRocco finished off an acrobatic drive, then Gajjaoui flew through the lane for an offensive rebound and a put-back bucket.

Andover’s Dave Giribaldi probably should have won the game for the home team with a back-breaking three-pointer with 2:12 to play, but Tenaglia answered with a three-pointer at the 1:30 mark to draw Tewksbury back within one.  In the final minute, Derrah grabbed an offensive rebound and powered it home to put Tewksbury ahead, 60-59. Perry responded by driving the lane for two to put Andover ahead by one with 25 seconds to play.

Without a time out, Tewksbury had to immediately run a play. Tenaglia dribbled and waited for 15 seconds, then shot and missed. But senior guard Henry Roberts grabbed the rebound and passed it to DiRocco in the corner. The Tewksbury captain caught-and-shot in one smooth motion and hit nothing but net. Tewksbury 63, Andover 61.

The Warriors had one last crack at it with six seconds left, but DiRocco snatched the ball away from Perry before Andover could get off a shot, and the Redmen had done what even Conners couldn’t have envisioned when he took over the TMHS program four years ago.

“It’s unimaginable, absolutely unimaginable,” Conners said. “Compared to what we had when I first walked in here? It’s just a testament to how hard these kids have worked. That we can come in here with a kid not over six feet and knock off the No. 5 team in the state. It’s just unheard of.”

“It was special,” agreed DiRocco afterward. “Biggest win since I’ve been here, no question. We knew they were going to come out strong in the second half after we took the lead. We knew we just had to counteract their run with one of our own, and we did it. It was awesome.”

In addition to DiRocco’s 26 and Tenaglia’s 16, Derrah finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, Gajjaoui scored 10 points (including 6-for-6 on free throws) and added six rebounds and Csokmay added three points.

Almost forgotten in all the excitement was the fact that the win qualifies Tewksbury for 2015 MIAA State tournament play, at just the halfway point of the season. With 10 games left on a 22-game schedule, TMHS has its best mid-season record in decades, at 11-1 overall. The Redmen are 6-1 in all MVC games, and unbeaten in MVC Division 2 action.

Without a Friday night game on the schedule this week, the Redmen will get a couple days off to rest and recuperate and enjoy their monumental victory before returning to action next Tuesday at home against Lowell.

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