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Ward's Unlikely Heroics Lead Tewksbury Over Sharon In Wilmington Holiday Tournament Championship

Dec 29, 2015 11:21PM ● By Rick Spencer

Senior captain Justin Derrah (42) had eight points and a critical last-second block against Sharon

He’s better known for his exploits on the football field than on the basketball court, but junior guard Tyler Ward came off the bench and made an instant name for himself on the hardwood floor Tuesday night.

Ward, who had previously appeared in only one other varsity contest, scored the final three points of the game and sparked the Tewksbury High boys’ basketball team to its second consecutive Larry McGrath Knights of Columbus basketball tournament championship in a nail-biting 64-62 victory over Sharon High School.

“I was really happy with what Tyler did.” said TMHS head coach Phil Conners after the game.  “I thought he did a great job off the bench. He hadn’t played any significant minutes yet, but I didn’t think he looked intimidated. I see guys with that deer in the headlights look and I don’t want that. I want a guy coming in who’s  dying to get into that game. And he had that look.”

Ward, who had never scored a varsity point before tossing in a career-high nine on Tuesday,  was quick to share the credit for his big night.

“We won as a team,” he said. “My teammates gave me the ball and I did what I had to do.

“I was surprised that I got in when I did, so I just put my heart into it and did what I had to do,” Ward added. “It feels good. I didn’t really think coming in that I’d do something like this.”

Ward, whose only previous varsity minutes came in garbage time against Billerica two weeks ago, also contributed two critical three-pointers in the third quarter, when Tewksbury turned a four-point halftime deficit into a six-point lead by outscoring Sharon 21-9 in the period. Senior forward Adam Gajjaoui also tossed in seven points,  grabbed three rebounds and blocked a shot in that critical third quarter.

“We did a good job in that third quarter,” Conners said. “It was the one good quarter we played in two days.”

But for the second consecutive night, the Redmen couldn’t finish off an opponent when they had them on the ropes. An 8-0 Sharon run in the middle of the fourth quarter drew the Eagles to within two at 55-53 with 3:24 left in the game. Conners used his final time out at that juncture, and whatever he said to his team worked, because TMHS did just enough down the stretch to hang on for the win.

After senior guard Ryan Briggs contributed a timely lay-up on a pretty assist from senior forward Justin Derrah, senior guard Nate Tenaglia hit two critical free throws and then scored on an undefendable stop-and-pop move. In the game's final minute, Ward scored on a  breakaway lay-up and followed that up with a game-clinching free throw .

Derrah sealed the deal at the buzzer when he blocked a last-second shot by Sharon’s leading scorer, senior forward Mitchell Sirota, who led the Eagles with 16 points in the game.

“Justin did a great job,” Conners said. “He hustled back and I thought he made a great play. Knowing the kid was going to go right,  he jumped on his right hand.”

As has been the case in all six of Tewksbury’s games this season, Tenaglia led all scorers with 22 points. Gajjaoui finished with 11 while Briggs added nine, including two important baskets that helped TMHS protect its slim fourth-quarter lead. Derrah finished with eight points and sophomore guard Giovanni Ciampa added five.

But in spite of raising his team’s record to 6-0 and taking home his second consecutive trophy in Wilmington High’s annual holiday tournament, Conners was nowhere near satisfied with how his team has played since Santa Claus visited.

“We just survived,” Conners said. “This was a terrible two days. We were lucky to get out of here with a win. We got lucky. We walked out of here with a win tonight after playing one quarter the way we are capable of playing. We held on at the end.”

With a road game at perennial Merrimack Valley Conference powerhouse Central Catholic looming next on the schedule, Conners is worried about his team’s current state of mind.

“We're in a funk,” he said. “We’re in a behavior funk that is carrying over into our basketball. I don’t like how we carried ourselves. We need to check our character and that’s going to start tomorrow in practice. We’ve got a long way to go.”

The Redmen will have a week off to work out the bugs before visiting Central Catholic next Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m.


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