Winnisquam’s Tucker Normand drives past a Sanborn defender during action in Tilton on Jan. 23. The host Bears won a tight one, 63-59. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
January 28, 2013TILTON – It's rare to find a freshman that relishes the big moments. Fortunately for the Winnisquam Regional High School boys' basketball team, they have Christian Serrano.
The rookie point guard scored a team-high 15 points, including three huge free throws in the final 27 seconds of regulation to seal a 63-59 win over Sanborn Regional High School in Division III action on Jan. 23.
"It takes some guts to step to the free throw line in situations like that," explained Winnisquam coach Kevin Dame of Serrano. "Close game, down to the wire…but he hit every one that we needed him to."
Sanborn (2-9) led 57-53 with 2:40 remaining in the fourth quarter after an 8-0 run saw a Winnisquam lead evaporate in a hurry. But Tucker Normand got the Bears back quickly, burying a three-pointer on the team's next possession to get within 57-56.
Serrano put Winnisquam back on top with a pair of free throws with 1:44 to play, and he followed that up with a nice cross court assist to Spencer Pevine for a layup to extend things to 60-57.
Sanborn answered with two free throws to get within 60-59 with 55 seconds remaining, and the Indians had a chance to retake the lead on their next possession. But a nice defensive stand from the Bears saw John Montalto grab a key rebound, and Serrano was fouled down the other end yet again. The freshman calmly sank both freebies with 27 seconds left, giving Winnisquam a 62-59 lead.
From there, the Bears again came up with a big stop on defense, and Montalto hauled in his 10th rebound of the night with 12 seconds left. The ball eventually found the hands of Serrano, and he dribbled around until being fouled with 1.9 seconds to play. Serrano sank one of two from the stripe, making it a two possession game and securing the victory for the home team.
"I thought the effort was there tonight," began Dame. "The execution didn't quite match the effort. Our shooters were rushing their looks a little bit. When we took our time, we hit most of our shots. But this was a game that two weeks ago, we would've lost."
Winnisquam (4-7) looked like world beaters in the first quarter, as the Bears got up and down the floor thanks to some controlled chaos to the tune of 19 points. Pevine hit a three and Tucker Normand and Dakota Van Tassel added a pair of hoops as Dame's crew led 19-7 after one quarter.
"There was a stretch there late in the first quarter where we were flying everywhere on defense, running out in transition and taking open shots," Dame said. "That's what we're looking for for the entire 32 minutes."
The Bears led 32-22 at halftime, but Sanborn opened the third quarter on an 11-2 run to get within 34-33 with 5:01 left. Dame decided not to call a timeout and let his team work through the adversity, and the Bears responded with a run of their own. Pevine got things going with a basket, and Serrano hit a jumper. Tucker Normand dropped in a three while brother Parker Normand scored five straight (three free throws and a field goal) as Winnisquam posted a 12-0 run to take a 46-33 advantage.
But Sanborn responded with a 16-4 run to get back within 50-49 early in the fourth quarter, and it was back and forth for the rest of regulation.
While Serrano picked up his fourth foul late in the third quarter, his return in the waning minutes helped elevate the Bears to the big win.
"I'm happy we gutted it out but I know we can play better than this," said Dame.
The win was the second straight for Winnisquam, which lost a pair of tight contests just prior to that. With the exception of a loss to Gilford (67-29) on Jan. 8, the Bears have looked like a much better ballclub since playing in the Lakes Region Holiday Tournament last month.
"From that last game before Christmas on, other than the Gilford game I've been happy with the effort from the boys," Dame said. "We've been playing better basketball."
The schedule the rest of the way also sets up well for the Bears, as they will play just one team (Mascoma Valley) with a winning record over their final six regular season contests.
"I always tell the guys that we have to take it one game at a time," began Dame. "So we need to keep doing that. We have a streak of winnable games coming up and I think with the way we are capable of playing, we can have success late in the season."
Pevine (12 points) and Tucker Normand (10) joined Serrano in double figures for the Bears, while Parker Normand (nine) and Montalto (eight) also had strong games. Austin Hunt had a big three midway through the fourth quarter to make his only basket count.
Winnisquam is back in action on Feb. 1 after a week off, and the Bears will travel to Belmont High School for a key D-III contest.