EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 20, 2013

Phiri, Hillies rally from down 8 in fourth to beat Methuen

By Jeff Hamrick

---- — 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.

That field goal capped an 11-3 run as Methuen (4-17) managed only four points the final 5:42. The Rangers’ youth was evident with five key turnovers in the fourth, during which they made only two of their 11 attempts from the field.

Sophomore Tim Galloway-Burke, one of seven underclassmen among the first eight Rangers to see action, scored a team-high 21. Fellow soph Cooper Hammel added 11 and Nathan Bueno, the only senior to score, finished with 10.

“I guess all year, everyone’s talk has been about the sophomores and how young we were,” Methuen coach Matt Curan said. “The positive is that once we were eliminated from postseason, these kids still came ready to play every day. Tonight was our sixth game in eight days. We just said, ‘Let’s let these kids go out playing because that’s where they learn the best.’”

But last night belonged to Haverhill and its long-suffering fans.

“I think it’s been a case of our seniors refusing to lose,” Haverhill coach Mike Trovato said. “The seniors have meant so much to our program over the last four years, and you heard them yelling in the huddle, ‘No way are we going to lose.’”

Haverhill 65, Methuen 58

Methuen (58): Mark Sicard 2 1-2, 5, Tim Galloway-Burke 7 6-7 21, Nathan Bueno 4 2-5 10, Cooper Hammel 4 0-1 11, Corey Bell 2 2-2 6, Jamal Rene 0 2-2 2, John Pierce 1 0-0 3, Jimmy Hjoroge 0 0-0 0, London Torres 0 0-0 0, Freddie Santiago 0 0-0 0, Chris LeBlanc 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 13-19 58

Haverhill (65): Nick Comei 0 0-0 0, Shain Roche 2 1-2 7, Saul Phiri 6 8-8 23, Tommy Morgan 1 0-0 2, Sean Wrenn 2 1-2 5, Matthew Jameson 3 5-5 11, Anthony Dionne 5 2-5 12, Michael Kwegyir-Attah 1 0-2 2, Piero Garcia 1 0-0 3, Matthew Burns 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 17-24 65

3-pointers: M — Hammel 3, Galloway-Burke, Pierce; H — Phiri 3, Roche 2, Garcia.

Methuen (4-17): 14 14 22  8 — 58

Haverhill (11-8): 14 12 18 21 — 65