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Down to the wire

Kennett hoop boys rally in fourth, come up short against Kingswood

by Joshua Spaulding
Sports Editor - Granite State News, Carroll County Independent, Meredith News, Gilford Steamer, Winnisquam Echo, Plymouth Record-Enterprise and Baysider

KINGSWOOD’S Mike Garabedian goes hard to the hoop and is fouled by Kennett’s Nate Ela in Jan. 4 action. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
January 07, 2013
WOLFEBORO — It had all the excitement of a Tom Clancy thriller, all the drama of any of the Housewives series and all the action of a Stanley Cup Finals overtime battle.

Those statements might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but the battle between the Kennett and Kingswood boys' basketball teams on Friday, Jan. 4, may have been the most excitement the new Kingswood gym has seen.

The Eagles battled all the way back from a 15-point third quarter deficit to almost steal a win from the Knights, but Kingswood's solid free throw shooting in the final minutes allowed them to escape with a 57-56 victory in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Wolfeboro.

"I have to hand it to Kingswood," said Kennett coach Steve Coté. "The last few players we put on the line, in a high pressure situation, they knocked their shots down."

"That's really the first time we've been in a situation where we've had to do that," Kingswood coach Dan Chick said. "And for the most part, we came through."

Kennett point guard Brandon DiLucchio was on fire in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 of his game-high 26 points in the final quarter, including nine in the final 1:33 of the contest, allowing the Eagles to fight back.

Kennett opened the fourth quarter trailing by a 41-26 tally, but DiLucchio hit a hoop and a free throw to cut into that lead. After Kingswood's Dan Eldridge drained a hoop to push the lead to 14, DiLucchio hit a field goal and then a three-pointer with 4:30 to play in the game to cut the lead to single digits at 43-34.

After a pair of Ryan Vajentic free throws cut the lead to seven, Tom McCullough put in a hoop for the Knights to push the lead back to nine. Kennett's Thomas Loynd then answered with a three-pointer to cut the lead to six again. However, Eldridge converted a three-point play and then hit a technical free throw with 1:48 to play to make it a 49-39 lead for the Knights.

Loynd then sank three free throws five seconds later to cut the lead to seven and DiLucchio hit back-to-back three-pointers to cut the lead to 49-48 with just one minute to play.

Tom Berry drained two from the line for the Knights to push the lead back to three, but two free throws from Loynd at the other end made it a one-point game again with 25 seconds to play.

Zach Smithwood and Berry each hit a pair from the line for the Knights, Berry's coming with 11 seconds to go to make it a 55-50 lead for the Knights. However, Loynd hit three more free throws with five seconds to play to cut the lead to two.

Adam Szewczyk stepped to the line for the Knights with 4.5 seconds on the clock and calmly drilled two more free throws and they were the deciding factor, as DiLucchio's half-court bomb at the buzzer made it 57-56 in favor of the Knights.

Coté praised the play of his sophomore point guard.

"He wants the basketball at the end," the Eagle coach said. "He's 100 percent heart out there. In a game like this, you need someone who's going to take those tough shots."

"I thought Kennett played very aggressive defense, so we must have been doing some things right offensively," Chick said. "We created some pretty good shots and didn't force many."

In the early going, the two teams were back and forth, but Kingswood really took control in the third quarter.

The two teams exchanged hoops in the first quarter, with Mike Garabedian hitting the first two for Kingswood and DiLucchio draining a three for the Eagles. Kennett's Nate Ela hit a free throw and a bucket to give his team a two-point lead, but Smithwood answered for the Knights. Buckets from Ela and DiLucchio gave the Eagles a four-point lead, but Smithwood hit a hoop, Eldridge hit two free throws and Garabedian hit one from the line to give the Knights an 11-10 lead heading to the second.

Eldridge opened the second with a three and after hoops from Ben Cashman and McCullough, Kingswood led 18-10. A Loynd three-pointer a pair of DiLucchio free throws cut the lead to three. After a Garabedian free throw made it a four-point game, Christian Rivers came through with a hoop for the Eagles to make it a 19-17 score. However, Garabedian hit two from the line and a field goal to give Kingswood a 23-17 lead heading to the half.

The third quarter was all Kingswood, as the Knights held the Eagles to just nine points and scored 18 of their own. Hoops from Smithwood and Szewczyk got Kingswood off on the right foot and after a pair of DiLucchio free throws got Kennett on the board, Berry drained a three and Smithwood hit two from the line to make it a 32-19 lead.

Loynd hit another three to keep cut the lead to 10 and an Ela hoop and two Vajentic free throw made it 32-26. However, Eldridge hit from beyond the arc and sank two free throws and Smithwood hit a hoop to extend the lead to 39-26. A McCullough rebound and hoop at the buzzer gave the Knights the 41-26 lead heading to the fourth, when the Eagles came roaring back.

"I am very pleased with how we fought back," Coté said. "When you have a team with a lack of experience, they focus on the final score and the last four minutes. But it's a 32-minute game and we dug ourselves a hole in the first half.

"We don't have the type of team to come back from insurmountable leads," the Eagle coach continued. "But we think we're going to be in a lot of games at the end and we've been working on a lot of these situations."

Coté noted that the Knights were able to get the early lead thanks in big part to strong rebounding, something his team struggled with all night.

"We have to play fundamentally strong basketball and we didn't," Coté said. "But that was a vintage Kennett-Kingswood game."

"I figured they'd come out and light it up," Chick said of Kennett. "And at times they did, which kept them in the game. They have some good shooters and they use them well."

Chick was pleased that his team's offensive struggles seemed to disappear in front of the raucous home crowd, noting that the Knights weren't as tentative as they have been at times on the offensive side of the ball.

For the game, DiLucchio led all scorers with 26, while Loynd had 17 for the Eagles. Eldridge led the Knights with 16 points, while Smithwood had 12 and Garabedian put in 10.

The Knights will be in action on Friday, Jan. 11, at Merrimack Valley High School and on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at home against Lebanon, with both games set for 6:30 p.m. starts.

The Eagles will be hosting Plymouth on Friday, Jan. 11, and travel to Berlin on Tuesday, Jan. 15, both for 6:30 p.m. starts.

JV action

The Kennett JV team defeated Kingswood by a 42-24 score. Tanner George and Abram Giles each had six for Kennett, while Brian Ferguson and Ben Tessier each had six for Kingswood.

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at sportsgsn@salmonpress.com or 569-3126

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