By Conor Walsh
---- — IPSWICH — The Rockport boys basketball team has developed a flair for the dramatic over the past few weeks.
But just four days after overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to stun Georgetown on the road, the Vikings were on the other side of a last-second victory last night when they took on Ipswich at Ipswich High School.
After taking their first lead since early in the second quarter with just 37 seconds left to play last night, the Vikings were ultimately stunned when Tigers forward Erik Fyrer nailed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Ipswich a dramatic 56-55 win.
”I have a very good ball club,” Rockport coach Tim St. Laurent said after the game. “But we let them hang around. We didn’t play our game the way we wanted to play. We started getting it going and then I thought we had it and Fyrer hit a big shot.”
It was an ugly loss for the Vikings, who fall to 7-8 with just three games remaining. But after struggling to establish any kind of rhythm through the first three quarters of last night’s physical game, Rockport finally found its way against the middling Tigers.
Trailing by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter, the Vikings ramped up their defensive pressure and slowly began to chip away at the Tigers’ lead.
As the minutes ticked away, though, it looked like Rockport had dug itself too large a hole. But, like Friday’s comeback win over Georgetown, the Vikings snatched momentum back in the final minutes and strung together a 10-0 run to take a late 55-53 lead.
It started with a 3-pointer from Nick Scatterday, followed by a missed Ipswich shot. Next, three-straight buckets from Shaun Aspesi (19 points) with Ipswich turnovers sandwiched between them, and just like that, it was Rockport’s game to win with 37 seconds left.
And when Conor Kuykendall (10 points, eight rebounds) forced a jump ball to give the VIkings possession with 12.2 left on the clock, it seemed they had it wrapped up.
Then, though, disaster struck. Ipswich guard Matt Jaeger stole the inbound pass and called timeout with 5.6 seconds left to give the Tigers a chance.
Even still, the Tigers botched their inbound pass, leaving the 6-foot-4 Fyrer (15 points) to jack up a desperation, off-balance shot as time expired.
”We finished strong in the fourth quarter and they made a very, very tough shot to win the game,” St. Laurent said. “Sometimes that’s how it goes.”
While the game ended dramatically, it shouldn’t have come down to that for the Vikings. Against a team they beat by 15 points earlier in the season, it was clear that Rockport had a talent edge.
But with a distinct height disadvantage down low, the Vikings needed to run the floor and keep the Tigers’ post players from establishing themselves on either end.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, that didn’t happen enough. While they forced an absurd 28 turnovers, the possessions the Tigers were able to set up were often extended by offensive rebounds.
If you give even a mediocre team a second — and third — chance, they’ll eventually hurt you. And the Tigers did.
With the loss, the Vikings now need to win two of their final three games, all against the top-three teams in the CAL Small. They’ll open that stretch against second-place Manchester Essex on Friday at Rockport High (6:30), a team that needs just one more win to qualify for the state tournament.
After that, they’ll wrap up the regular season at Lynnfield and home against Amesbury, first and third in the CAL Small, respectively.
”We’ve got Manchester, Lynnfield and Amesbury, so tonight was big,” St. Laurent admitted. “But definitely winnable games, especially at home. We kept letting (Ipswich) back in it tonight and they capitalized on it, and we’ve got three more games left. We’ve got to take care of business.”