NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. — It’s been quite a 10-day stretch for North Attleboro, qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2011 last week and winning their first Hockomock championship since 2001 on Friday night.
But the Rocketeers had no problem getting motivated for Sunday night’s contest with the visiting Milford Scarlet Hawks.
All they had to do was look back three weeks when the Hawks went coast-to-coast to beat the Rocketeers on a buzzer beater at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
Or two seasons ago, when a pair of free throws with no time left turned a one-point advantage into a one-point loss.
In fact, North Attleboro’s senior class was winless against the Hawks heading into the final Hockomock League game of the season.
Hosting Milford for the first time in four years, the Rocketeers closed out the fourth quarter in true championship fashion, outscoring the Scarlet Hawks 20-1 over the final six minutes of play to turn a close game into a 66-45 win.
“We just clinched playoffs, we just won the league championship but we didn’t need any extra motivation for this one,” said North Attleboro senior Thomas Reynolds, who was on the court for both of Milford’s last second wins. “You just have to look back at the last couple of years. Losing on the free throw, losing at the Dunk twice, we had never beat them. It was definitely nice to come in here to get the last league win.”
“It’s a satisfying win for the kids, especially for the seniors,” said North Attleboro head coach Sean Mulkerrins, who also picked up his first win over Milford. “For the past four years, Milford has been our boogeyman, we just couldn’t beat them. Hopefully this is just one in a string of games that we’re in here that could potentially get us a home game in the playoffs.
North Attleboro’s strategy to feed big man Jonny Friberg paid off in two ways – the 6’6 senior poured in a career-high 28 points while hauling in 11 rebounds and the pounding inside resulted in some fouls for the Hawks.
Milford was whistled for eight fouls in the third quarter — four of them on Hawks leading rebounder Kayden Kelley (five points, six rebounds).
The Rocketeers started their big run taking advantage of Kelley’s absence with Chad Peterson (eight points, six rebounds, five assists) finishing a put back, Reynolds (nine points, two rebounds) hitting a free throw and then Peterson draining a three off of an offensive rebound.
Brent Doherty (14 points, four rebounds, four assists) found Friberg in the post for two to extend North Attleboro’s lead to 55-44 with four minutes to play. After a pair of stops from the Rocketeers’ defense, Reynolds drained a three off a pass from Peterson to make it 57-44 with 2:31 to play.
“It’s just about confidence,” Reynolds said about being able to close out games better. “We’ve figured out how to win games, close out games. We’re all confident in each other, it doesn’t matter who takes the big shot. We all just want to make sure we get a great shot over a good shot.”
Doherty added a layup and Reynolds added two more free throws to push the run to 15-0 over a five minute span. It marked the second straight game that North Attleboro kept its opponent for five minutes in the final quarter.
Milford shot 0/6 and had five turnovers in the stretch.
“When guys are thinking about defense first and you play good defense, you don’t have to think too much about the offense,” Mulkerrins said. “You look at that 20-1 run down the stretch and a lot of people look at the 20 but I look at the one. If you want to beat teams like Milford and Foxboro, the one is much more important to us.”
North Attleboro had a near flawless start to the game, finding Friberg early and often. The senior scored 11 of the team’s first 14 points while Doherty added five and Peterson had a trifecta. North shot 8/11 from the field while forcing four turnovers.
But Milford responded with an even better second quarter to take the lead into halftime. After North scored the opening bucket of the quarter, the Hawks went on a wild 18-0 run to seize a five point advantage. Zack Tamagni (14 points, four assists) bookended the run with a pair of layups while both Nate Davila (nine points) and Shane Cosquete (nine points, five rebounds) hit a pair of three pointers in the stretch.
The Rocketeers closed the deficit some in the final two minutes of the half, with Doherty finding space for a layup and Friberg grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring right before the buzzer. Milford led 28-25 at half.
Big Red carried that momentum into the third quarter and used a 12-0 run to take the lead back. Reynolds started the run with a three, Friberg added two free throws and a bucket in the paint and Doherty hit a three and converted a put back in the stretch.
“We knew it’d be a game of runs,” Mulkerrins said. “We knew they’d punch back. I thought Milford did an excellent job in the second quarter of executing their game plan and moving the ball and getting the pace that works for them. I was proud of how we finished the second quarter and then we started the second half on a much better run. I’m real proud of the guys for counter punching.”
North Attleboro finished with 19 assists on 23 made field goals and won the rebounding battle 30-27.
“This group has really bought into the concept of team over individual,” Mulkerrins said. “We’re always striving to get a great shot instead of a good shot. To their credit, they continued to share the ball and gave up individual opportunities for the greater good of the team.”
“This has been surreal,” Reynolds said.”To go 0-20 my freshman year and see how far we’ve progressed, it’s just an unreal feeling. I couldn’t be prouder to be teammates with these guys.”
North Attleboro boys basketball (13-7 overall, 10-6 Hockomock) is back in action on Monday when they travel to take on rival Attleboro in a non-league contest at 6:00. Milford (9-10, 7-9) is also back in action on Monday when it hosts Medway. The Scarlet Hawks need a win to get into the state tournament.
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