By Michael James LeClair
The Nashoba Regional boys’ basketball team was looking to capture its first Clark University High School Basketball Tournament since 1977 on Saturday night.
Unfortunately for Nashoba fans, the fifth-seeded Chieftains dropped a hard fought 55-51 decision to the No. 2 Rams of Shepherd Hill Regional in the Large School Division Championship of the 76th installment of the annual tournament Clark University’s Kneller Gymnasium.
Nashoba falls to 14-8 on the year and will now turn its attention to the Central Mass. Division 2 Tournament. The Chieftains earned the third-seed and will host eighth-seeded Medway on Friday night.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of these kids,” said Nashoba head coach Danny Ortiz. “We came in here as an underdog and made it to the championship round against a good Shepherd Hill team.”
Nashoba jumped out to a 15-8 lead after the first quarter of play before the Rams answered in the second stanza.
With Nashoba holding a 17-11 lead two minutes into the second quarter Shepherd Hill responded with a quick 6-0 run to tie the score at 17 with four and a half minutes left before halftime.
Eric Demmer and Travis Macko were huge in the opening 16 minutes for the Chieftains. Demmer scored 14 of his game total 21 points in the first half while Macko tossed in nine points during the first two quarters. Macko finished the night with 19 points and 11 rebounds to earn a double-double for Nashoba. Demmer also added six boards.
The offensive production from the two sparked the Chieftains to enter the locker room at halftime tied at 29.
Fortunately for Nashoba its hot shooting from the charity stripe (7-for-8) in the first half helped keep the team in the ballgame through the first 16 minutes.
“Our boys played their hearts out,” said Ortiz. “They competed all the way to the very end in a close game that could have gone either way.”
In the third quarter, the game remained a nip and tuck battle. The Rams outscored Nashoba 14-11 in the frame and carried a slim 43-40 advantage in the fourth and final quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Shepherd Hill’s Michael Rapoza knocked down a layup to stretch the Rams lead to 45-40 with a hair less than six minutes to play. But Macko and Demmer responded with the next eight points for Nashoba. A Macko layup with 3:56 left gave Nashoba a 48-45 lead.
The lead wouldn’t stick though for the Chieftains as the Rams scored 10 of the final 13 points in this one. After Shepherd Hill reclaimed the lead 50-48 with 2:44 left, Nashoba took its final upper hand of the night when Demmer buried a 3-pointer with 1:31 to play to give the Chieftains a 51-50 lead.
The Rams went ahead for good with 41 seconds left when John Packard hit a layup. Shepherd Hill made three free throws down the stretch to seal the deal.
Nasoba’s Justin Pierce tossed in four points on Saturday night and teammate Tony Kennon finished with three points on a bomb from behind the arc. Demmer registered three successful field goals from behind the 3-point line on Saturday.