HAVERHILL — What a difference 58 days — and a bunch of victories — make.
Less than two months after opening the season with five consecutive losses and playing in front of sparsely filled stands in its own gym, Haverhill ended its home portion of the regular season last night in grand style.
Rallying from an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit, the Hillies posted a 65-58 victory over Methuen in front of a raucous and overflowing senior-night crowd that left people standing in the aisles.
The win has Haverhill 11-8 with only today’s regular-season finale at Reading left before the Hillies embark on their first postseason trip since 2005.
“The difference is our energy and focus,” MVC Division 2 MVP Anthony Dionne said of the turnaround. “We became a family. In the beginning everybody wasn’t getting along. We just have this desire to win. I think everyone started to believe in us.”
Last night, it was a freshman who played a huge role down the stretch. Saul Phiri, who was held to four free throws in the opening half, nailed a trio of three-pointers and erupted for 19 second-half points.
“We turned it up on defense and that really pushed us,” said Phiri, who also had eight rebounds, including four consecutive on Methuen’s final field-goal attempts. “I just started to look for my shots and they fell.”
Despite seven ties in the first three quarters, Haverhill held a lead for a total of only 104 seconds until Shain Roche provided assists on the two baskets that gave the Hillies the lead for good.
The first came on an inbound pass under the basket that Dionne (12 points) turned into a layup for a 58-57 lead with 1:44 remaining. The second was the final pass of a great ball-movement possession and set up Phiri’s final 3 with 55 seconds left and a 61-57 advantage.