‘We Needed This One’
LEOMINSTER - After winning two straight games last week, Leominster High boys’ basketball head coach KC Grutchfield certainly didn’t want to take the foot off the accelerator, even with Shrewsbury in town Tuesday night.
And sure, Shrewsbury is not the same Shrewsbury as in past years - but it’s still Shrewsbury, it’s still a league game, and snagging it away from the Colonials would certainly help the Blue Devils’ efforts in returning to the Central Mass. playoffs.
Thanks to double-figures out of four players and a pair of 3pointers down the stretch, Leominster pushed the accelerator through the floorboards to put the visiting Colonials in the rearview mirror, holding on the rest of the way en route to a key 63-56 win at the LHS gymnasium.
The win sees Leominster improve to 8-5 overall (2-3 in Mid-Wach A), with another league tilt set for Thursday here against Algonquin Regional.
Shrewsbury fell to 6-6 (4-2).
Grutchfield, who had told his charges that it was ” Showtime!” with just under a minute remaining, was pleased with the win - which saw several different players contribute in the final three minutes.
“We needed this one, and I just told the guys with the way they’ve been working in practice, and the way they’ve come together as a team, they deserve a quality win like tonight,” he said. “It was a quality win, and it gives us momentum going into a huge game Thursday against one of the best teams in Central Mass.
“We kept our composure, we hit shots when we needed to. A huge team win.”
LHS (24 of 55 from the field, 8 of 13 in the fourth) trailed by two possessions, 55-51, after Shrewsbury’s Luke Mulcahy scored with 2:58 left.
But it was a drive from the outside by Liam Connacher (10 points off the bench) on Givensky Pierre-Louis’ feed which shifted the momentum toward the Blue and White.
“Liam Connacher was immense for us,” Grutchfield said. “He hit some huge buckets when no one else could score for us, and his six points in the fourth were all huge, clutch points. All year long, our defense has kept us in games, and we knew we were going to have to lock (Shrewsbury) down if we were going to win this game.
“We locked them down in the last three minutes.”
A little over 70 seconds later, with Pierre-Louis taking a couple of stiff elbows in the paint, the Colonials lost the ball. Jeremiah Paulino came up with the ball and took a couple of dribbles before firing a strike to Trevon LeBlanc.
LeBlanc’s 3-pointer from the elbow gave LHS a slim 56-55 lead with 1:25 remaining in the ballgame - a lead Leominster did not relinquish.
After a Shrewsbury turnover, one of its 17, Paulino hit another 3-pointer to put LHS two possessions to the good, 59-55, and it was free throws the rest of the way as the Devils blasted through the Colonial 1-2-1-1 press down the sideline.
″(Pierre-Louis) was getting trapped on that initial pass, and he did a good job of keeping his composure and finding the open man, and we were getting (an) advantage down the other end because of it,” Grutchfield said.
An 11-0 Colonial run late in the first quarter had sparked the tourists out to their largest lead of the game, 15-6, with 10 seconds remaining, before Paulino (14 points) hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to cut the deficit to two possessions, 15-9.
Leominster clawed back and took a three-point, 27-24 lead into the locker room as Paulino, Janier Cora Huetas and Derrick Thomas (game-high 15 points) all hit trifectas in the second stanza. In addition, Leominster limited Shrewsbury to 2 of 16 from the floor in the second quarter.
LHS hoops by LeBlanc and Connacher in the fourth kept things copacetic before four points out of Phil Smyrinos with about six minutes left - an oldfashioned three-point play and a freebie - pushed Shrewsbury out to a four-point, 51-47 lead.
The teams would trade buckets over the next two minutes or so, before Connacher, in the corner, saw wide-open floorboards ahead of him.
“We kept our composure, we hit shots when we needed to.
A huge team win.”
Leominster coach KC Grutchfield