NORTH ANDOVER, –- Andover's David Giribaldi said he felt magic in his hands before the final of the Commonwealth Motors Christmas Classic against rival Central Catholic.
For 32 minutes, he put on a show of slight of hand that mesmerized the over-capacity crowd at Merrimack College's Volpe Athletic Center. Giribaldi pumped in 27 points to lead Andover past Central, 72-68, in the finals of the Commonwealth Motors Classic.
“I knew coming into it I'd have a pretty good shooting day,” Giribaldi said. “I felt like it was my time to shine.”
Giribaldi exploded for 12 points in the third quarter, including seven points over three straight possessions. Giribaldi led the way for a showcase night for Andover's shooters.
Seniors Ben Brown and John Pisacreta rose to the occasion when their number was called. Brown scored 12 points and pulled down three rebounds. Pisacreta scored six points, including four free throws to seal the win, but his biggest role was running the point and setting the pace of the offense.
“Everything they do contributes,” Giribaldi said of Brown and Pisacreta. “Having them is key. They're all the reason I did well.”
Central romped early, scoring the first eight points, but a timeout by Andover's Dave Fazio turned the game around. Andover came out of the break and finished the final six minutes of the quarter on a 22-5 run.
“We just got together and said we've got to get the nerves out,” Andover's Connor Merinder said. “Once we did that we were able to play the game we wanted to.”
Andover's box-and-one defense shut Central's Tyler Nelson for long chunks of the game. The Fairfield-bound Nelson was held to four points in the first half and 11 for the game. That opened the door for Kevin Fernandez and A.J. Pettway to step up.
Fernandez finished with nine points, and Pettway had 12 on four arching rainbows form three-point land.
“When you rely so much of your offense on Tyler Nelson and the team is doing a good job of shutting him down you have to do different things,” Central coach Rick Nault said. “For two young guys they have a lot of confidence and I think it shows well for our future. But we're not playing for our future; we're playing for now. We're a highly-considered team throughout the state and we're playing to win this year. We expect them to make plays for us; that's why they're in there.”
Andover opened up a 16-point lead midway through the second half, but the Raiders clawed back and closed the gap to a point before Andover opened the gap back up to nine and held on.
A major part of the comeback was the massive game from Nick Cambio. The senior forward shouldered the load for Central putting up a double-double with 26 points and 13 rebounds. He also had two steals.
“When you go box and one on Nelson you've got to give up something and Cambio got us a bit,” Fazio said. “We ended up a bit of matchup man-on-man at the end of it.”
Nault said that he liked Cambio's performance and wants to see him repeat it more often.
“He had a good second half; he's a key guy for us,” Nault said. “To be honest, I think we need more from him. We need more scoring, more rebounding. I know he played very well tonight, but that needs to be consistent. Nick's a guy that we count on for so much, and have for the last few years, and now it's time for him to be the senior captain and to shine.”
Merinder had the task of matching up Cambio and he had a solid game with 11 points and eight rebounds.
It was E.J. Perry's first ever Andover-Central game. No one would have blamed the freshman if he had clammed up in the moment. But when the lights got bright EJ got loose.
Perry started the game and netted 14 points in the win. His 11 first-half points were key in Andover opening up it's big early lead.
Perry's coaches and teammates couldn't heap enough praise on the young guard.
“We tell him every game: he's one of the best players we have,” Merinder said. “We tell him it doesn't matter who we're playing, play the same way and get those nerves out of the way.”
“He's fearless,” Fazio said. “We love him to pieces. We're not afraid to go to them. That's what you need against Central.”
“I thought he did awesome,” Giribaldi said. “He's a freshman coming in, playing in this crowd. He's good. He's going to be good.”
Perry himself said that the feeling was hard to describe.
“It was awesome; unbelievable,” Perry said. “The excitement, the adrenaline going through my body was unbelievable.”
AN ANSWERED PRAYER
Up six with the first quarter winding down, Andover's Gabriel Hernandez threw up a last gasp shot at the horn from 50 feet.
The ball ripped the twine and sent the Andover faithful into madness. Merinder laughed and it was one of the coolest things he's seen.
“It was the greatest thing ever,” Merinder said.