By Steev Riccardo
WORCESTER – They say it’s hard to beat the same team three times in one season, and the Shepherd Hill Rams will be the first to attest to that after falling to the Quabbin Panthers 52-51 in a classic encounter in an opening round game at the Clark Tournament on Monday night.
The Rams beat the Panthers 46-43 early in the season and squeezed by them 42-40 in the last meeting only weeks ago, but they fell short in their bid to sweep their rivals.
The Panthers came out shooting the ball well early, while the Rams struggled and trailed15-9 lead after one quarter.
Senior Tyler Martin and freshman Michael Rapoza helped the Rams battle back in the second quarter, outscoring the Panthers 16-13 and cutting the deficit to three points, 28-25, at the half.
The third quarter was an all out war as these two teams and coaches who know each other so well were in a real chess match with the Panthers, maintaining a 43-38 lead heading into the final quarter.
Trailing by nine points, 51-42, the Rams scored the next seven points to cut it to 51-49. The Panthers scored their last point of the game on a free throw when David Bianculli made a huge steal off the press and cut the score to 52-51 with a nice driving layup with 36 seconds left.
The Rams got the ball back with 20 seconds left and were forced to call timeout with 8.9 seconds. With one last chance for the win, they executed nicely and Justin Terlizzi had the open look but just missed a jumper and the comeback fell short.
“We played awful for three quarters plus,” said Rams coach Duane Corriveau. “We didn’t play good basketball and we were lucky to make a run at the end.”
On the final play, Corriveau said, “We got the shot we wanted for the guy we wanted to take it, you can’t ask for much more than that.”
Rapoza, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds in his first appearance in the Clark tournament said, “We played great defense and offensively we executed. It just came down to our last shot, which we barely missed.”
Terlizzi who also played well for the Rams with 13 points and 12 rebounds, said, “It’s hard to beat a team three straight times and we couldn’t hit our shots today; we weren’t moving on offense either. They were playing man to man the first two games, and they pressed us a lot today.”
“We have played them three times, and we won by three and by two and they won by one. It’s been two baskets that has separated us in three games. It’s a very good competition,” said Corriveau.
The 13-7 Rams have had a great season and are still alive with the playoffs looming despite this gut wrenching defeat at the hands of a team they have met eight times in the last three seasons.