Sizer Takes Step Toward Postseason
FITCHBURG -- You can’t underestimate anyone in high school athletics. Emotions play a big part in it, and when you’re feeling it, you can do just about anything.
And when a team loses six out of seven games in one stretch to put it in danger of missing the postseason, a team that is playing for its playoff life late in the season can be a dangerous entity to handle.
That’s the Sizer boys’ basketball team in a nutshell as it approached Valentine’s Day: entering Wednesday’s Worcester County Athletic Conference tilt with Notre Dame of South Street, the White Tigers needed wins in two of their last three to qualify for the postseason.
Now it’s down to one out of their last two, as host Sizer downed the Crusaders, 64-51, in a crosstown matchup.
The win lifts Sizer to 9-9 overall (6-4 WCAC), while Notre Dame fell to 9-11 overall (8-3 WCAC; 9-10 tourney eligible). Both teams have North Brookfield in their next games, including the Crusaders’ regular-season finale.
The White Tigers and Indians play Friday in North Brookfield, in what is expected to be a playoff atmosphere as North Brookfield is also a nine-win team looking for a way in.
Sizer coach Kelsey Johnston -- herself a standout player during her days at St. Bernard’s and Fitchburg State -- was thrilled with the win for her charges, who have now won three straight games dating back to last Friday’s 45-44 win over Nashoba Tech.
“This was big for us; this was a crucial game, definitely. We have two games left to close it out, and I didn’t want to be in the position where we were waiting until the last game (to clinch a spot),” she said.
The key for Sizer? A 17-4 second-quarter run which was part of an 11-of-17 shooting spree by the White Tigers to firmly take control. But not only that, Sizer valued the basketball during that span, only turning it over twice in the second quarter.
“That was huge. They were knocking down shots when they were open, which was huge for us,” Johnston said. “We’ve talked about getting it done on the defensive end, and then converting offensively. Our whole focus coming into this game was taking care of the basketball, and I think that was huge for us, too.”
In addition, Sebastian Rodriguez found the cylinder to resemble a hula hoop as he poured in a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds for Sizer, 15 points of which coming in the aforementioned second.
“He’s amazing. He’s a solid team player, and he’s one of the least selfish scorers that we have,” Johnston praised. “He’s constantly looking for his teammates, so it’s nice to know that he can come out and when he’s looking for his teammates, he can still find 23 points like that.”
Not to be outdone, Sizer’s Jonathan Poole contributed to the win with 13 points and a game-high 20 rebounds, while Francisco Rodriguez scored 15 points (7 rebounds).
Notre Dame had cut a four-point, 16-12 deficit to a single basket after Ryan Hammond (13 points, 13 rebounds) fed Russell Rau (11 points, 17 rebounds) all alone in the lane to one hoop 74 seconds into the second.
“We bounced back and forth a lot of ideas of what defense to play (on Rau),” Johnston said. “If he’s not producing, they have a ton of other great shooters. We wanted to pinch down low, and if nothing else, our bigs were fronting him on the back. The guards had to fill in the gaps, and they did that effectively.”
That’s when everything changed, as Sebastian Rodriguez hit a 3-pointer, the first of four for him, at the elbow to start the run. Francisco hit another 3-pointer in the corner 20 seconds later, before ND’s Steve Kaanta (13 points) scored off the offensive glass to cut Sizer’s edge to six, 22-16.
That would be the closest Notre Dame came the rest of the night, as Sebastian came the other way and scored a deep 3-pointer.
Seconds later, Gaviel Rodriguez came up with a nifty steal and threw a baseball pass to Axel Sanchez (8 points) for the layup, giving Sizer an 11-point, 27-16 lead.
Sizer took a 41-26 lead into the locker room.
“They outshot us, they outrebounded us; I’d say they outhustled us,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Hammond said afterward. “They deserved the win. They played great, and we didn’t.
“I think we have learned this season that every game is up for grabs, and we have to show up and match the other team’s intensity. (Sizer) played better than we did, and I also think they played better than we did. They made it look easy.”
William Hammond scored 9 points for Notre Dame, including two 3-pointers in the early goings of an impressive back-and-forth.