Published in the March 8, 2017 edition
By DAVID McCOUBREY
LYNNFIELD — In a barn burner Sunday afternoon at Lynnfield High School, the boys’ basketball team outlasted the Whittier Wildcats, 74-72, and in the process reached the Division 3 North Semifinals against the top-seeded Watertown Raiders to be played on Wednesday night (after press time).
Lynnfield has played two tournament games now, against Stoneham and Whittier, both bigger, stronger opponents. The Pioneers’ strategy has been to push the tempo, taking advantage of the slower teams by making these games an essential track meet.
The game came down to free throws, when Lynnfield nearly blew the game by missing clutch shots at the charity stripe because of tired legs.
Cape Ann League First Team All-League forward Lou Ellis even air-balled a free throw in the closing minutes, a surprising feat for such an incredible shooter.
“Lou has no legs. He was out all week with the flu,” said head coach Scott MacKenzie. “He’s in a bad way right now, but he gutted it out.”
Despite battling the flu, Ellis dropped 20 points on the Wildcats. He had 10 points in the third quarter.
With Ellis battling illness, senior captain and CAL First Team All-League player Mike Carangelo was able to shoulder the load.
“Mike carried us a little bit,” said MacKenzie. “Lou was a little out of sorts, but Mike was energized. I thought he did a fantastic job. It’s been a couple nights in a row where he’s really saved us.”
Carangelo’s stellar play, leading the team with 21 points, helped the Pioneers to pull away in the second half. At one point, Lynnfield led 66-51 with a little over five minutes remaining in the game. But the Pioneers let Whittier climb back in with a poor defensive effort, which continues to bother MacKenzie.
“Our defensive issues showed up again today,” he said. “Fortunately we were two points on the right side of the margin.”
MacKenzie, of course, is happy to move on after earning a tough win. But the lapses in defense and the high volume of turnovers could be a concern going forward.
“We did turn the ball over a lot today,” said MacKenzie. “I don’t know how many (junior guard Billy Arsenault) had today but it kind of started there.”
When you push the pace like Lynnfield does, it can be feast or famine offensively. MacKenzie thinks his team is an excellent passing team, which is why he trusts his guys to play up-tempo.
“(Junior forward) Danny Jameson is a phenomenal passer,” he said. “He does a really nice job of finding the weak side, finding the weak side cut, and so we’re just a good offensive team. We have kids who are smart, we have kids who can make plays. This is the year we kind of unleash (our offense) a little bit and make it a track meet.”
Lynnfield was in real trouble midway through the second quarter, falling behind 31-26, the biggest deficit of their two tournament games. Whittier got in bad foul trouble and that allowed the Pioneers to go on a 12-4 run to close the first half, making it 38-35 at the break.
To face Watertown
Stoneham and Whittier, though, were perhaps appetizers before the meal. Watertown is the number one seed in Division 3 North and is a team that Lynnfield won’t take lightly.
“Watertown is fantastic,” said MacKenzie. “They’ve got a fantastic point guard, they have a fantastic big. They have a fantastic wing. The have a spot up shooter. They’re an excellent defensive team that puts a ton of pressure on the ball. They’re the number one seed for a reason.”
But there was a telling detail in one of MacKenzie’s comments. He said, “They only play five kids.”
With the way Lynnfield has been getting up and down the court with pace and tempo, wearing out an opponent that only players its starters could be the key to an upset.
No good coach is ever completely happy and is always looking to improve, but a win is a win, and Lynnfield is eager to march on and face Watertown.
“We’ll take it,” said MacKenzie. “We’ve been together for 15 weeks. I wish we could play tomorrow. Practice stinks.”
The Pioneers will face Watertown on Wednesday, March 8, beginning at 7 p.m. at Wilmington High School.