MELROSE, Mass. --- In a battle of Division 2 North Middlesex League powers the No. 2 seed Melrose Red Raiders (20-2) came away victorious as they defeated the No. 7 seed Reading Rockets, 61-56.
The Middlesex League Small champion Raiders (20-2) exploded out of the gate behind 16 first half points from sophomore guard Jalen Adams. After leading 18-15 after the first quarter Melrose controlled a pivotal second quarter to take a 33-23 lead at the half.
Melrose changed defenses on the fly and the different looks appeared to frustrate Reading in the second quarter.
“We did a good job switching up defenses,” said Melrose head coach Mike Kasprzak. “We did not want to stay in anything too long.”
Senior guard Kenny Reed was hot early for Reading (15-7), scoring seven first quarter points, but Adams drew the assignment in the second quarter and held the senior scoreless.
“We had to step up defensively and stop them and I thought we did a good job when we needed to,” said Adams.
Melrose did a good job controlling Reading’s perimeter game in the first half but Reading came out in the second half in a triangle and two defense and succeeded in containing Adams and junior guard Michael Sherlock (seven points).
“We had not seen a triangle-and-two this year, and that frustrated us,” said Kasprzak. “We practice against it but until you see it in a game you do not really know how they will react.”
Reading also found their stroke from behind the arc in the second half as they made six second half 3-pointers after not hitting one in the first half.
Reading would cut the lead to seven points at 45-38 after three quarters of play and closed the gap to three points midway through the fourth quarter. Melrose held strong down the stretch and hit five clutch free throws in the final minutes of play to help put the game away.
“We just played together as a team and had confidence in ourselves,” said Adams.
Adams was amazing all night as the sophomore lead guard played with the poise and filled up the stat sheet scoring a game high 22 points, pulling down six rebounds, dishing out four assists in addition to three blocks and three steals.
Frantzy Factor: 6-foot-2 sophomore forward Frantzy Pierrot stepped up big for Melrose in the fourth quarter as he scored 10 of his 16 points as Reading did a good job controlling Adams and Sherlock on the perimeter.
“We were trying to work the hi-low with him in the fourth quarter and we did a good job getting him the ball on the block,” said Kasprzak.
Adams also lauded his classmate, “He was just great!”
Free Throw Differential: Reading struggled from the line all night, especially in the second half. Reading shot 1-14 in the second half and 4-21 overall on the night.
Melrose also struggled at times from the line as they made 13-21 but hit the important fourth quarter freebies when the game was on the line.
Regular season battle: Melrose defeated Reading in their lone regular season meeting of the season. Sherlock scored 13 points to lead Melrose to a 60-59 victory back on Dec. 16, 2011.
In that game it was a key steal by Melrose senior Al Young at the end of the game that helped seal the early season victory.
Up Next: Next up for Melrose is No. 3 seed Brighton on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. at Malden High School. Brighton was well represented in the Melrose gymnasium on Saturday night scouting their future opponent.
Brighton (18-3) defeated Middlesex League Large representative Woburn in the first round and recently defeated Lynn Classical on their way to the sectional semi-final match-up.
“We do not know too much about them but we will be ready,” concluded Adams.