By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Fitchburg — After competing on some of the area’s biggest stages – Springfield’s MassMutual Center and Worcester’s DCU Center – one year ago in state competition, any venue less prestigious would be considered a disappointment, Marlborough High boys varsity basketball team players admitted earlier in the season.
The 2015-2016 squad will not go that far this year as the number three-seed Panthers came out on the short end of a 41-38 decision falling to top-seed Concord-Carlisle in the Central Mass. Division 2 championship round played at Fitchburg State University on March 12. The loss ends the team’s hopes for further advancement and concludes their season with a record of 18-5.
“We didn’t make enough shots. Concord played better than us today,” said head coach Bryan Riley of the team his Panthers defeated here for the Division championship in 2015. “We made a run and came up a little short. I’m very proud of Marlborough High’s kids. They never gave up. We didn’t play particularly well offensively today. Maybe Concord had something to do with that.
“It was kind of a rock fight. I thought that if we got into that we would prevail but it wasn’t the case today. They made timely shots and timely free throws. That’s why they won the game.”
Both teams’ offense was sluggish early on, and it wasn’t until Marlborough’s senior forward Joe Tirpak hit on a three-point baseline jumper 3:23 into the game that the scoreboard read anything but zeros. Junior guard Owen Cappadona (10 points) lofted a trey of his own with three seconds remaining in the opening quarter to put his team up, 10-7.
Concord’s senior captain and Amherst College-bound Eric Sellew (15 points) opened up with some key baskets in the second including a buzzer-beater that sent the Patriots into the locker room on an emotional high. Sellew and his teammates kept at it in the second half with five quick points to open before sophomore center Chris Doherty banged home a pair of baskets in quick succession to close the gap to one point.
Concord opened the lead by as much as 12 points in the early stages of the fourth quarter, but capitulation has not been in this team’s DNA all season and nor would it be in this matchup. Cappadona and Doherty each hit a pair of free-throws as part of a 12-1 run that closed the gap to within three points. With six seconds remaining on the clock, Cappadona took an in-bounds pass from Tirpak and did the only thing he could do which was to launch a potentially game-tying three-pointer, but the shot, taken from an off-angle and in desperation, missed the mark
“We were trying to keep it a one-possession game but we weren’t able to do that and then we started playing freely in the last five minutes and we made a run at it,” explained Riley. “Credit Sellew. He made some really big free throws. He’s a great player.”
Doherty would finish the afternoon with 15 points, a total slightly below his season average.
“He (Doherty) was still a little out of shape for missing that time when he was sick but no excuses,” said Riley. “He played his heart out today and he’s going to every single time and I was proud of him. He fought through cramping and not having his wind. He really just took the warrior spirit and came out today. He gave it his all.
“Everyone in our locker room did and that’s all I can ask as a coach is that you go out there and play hard and sometimes it falls your way and sometimes it doesn’t.”
“We went with the same game plan that we went with last year that we felt was working where somebody guards Doherty and we take Eric (Sellew) and basically have him as a second line of defense and I think that contained him,” explained Patriot head coach David Cohen of his team’s containment strategy on Doherty.
Riley was especially pleased with his year-long performance of his seniors who played on 1-19 and 4-16 teams in their freshman and sophomore seasons. To take their performance as far as they did is a tribute to their effort and commitment, he said.
“It doesn’t take anything away from what those kids (seniors) have accomplished. It’s a credit to their hard work. I’m going to miss them.”
Members of the 2015-2016 Boys Division 2 Basketball State Championship finalists are seniors Joe Tirpak, Alexander Trombetta, Andrew Keenan, Brian Short, Jose De La Cruz and Liam Shanahan as well as juniors Owen Cappadona, Ethan Kirsch, Joao Mendes, Connor McCabe and Paul Wydom. Sophomores are Kevin Short and Chris Doherty along with freshman Michael Villodas.