By Hector Longo
---- — ANDOVER — Come this part of February, any pulse is a good pulse. And while Andover High’s conference title hopes may reside on life support, the beat goes on.
Last night before the usual lively full house of 1,000 or so at Dunn Gymnasium, the Warriors fought off a willing group of North Andover Scarlet Knights and prevailed, 59-45, to hold on to a at least a shot at half a Merrimack Valley Conference title.
Andover must now beat Lawrence and Central Catholic in its final two league games, then hope for some help from these same Knights to pull off an upset of the Raiders.
Just the opportunity put a wide smile on coach Dave Fazio’s face? Or was it something else.
“I can honestly say by this one, Game 16, that I like my basketball team,” said Fazio. “There was no pretending tonight. They’ve bought in. That was some real defense out there. We went out and defended hard, and that was the difference this time around.”
About a month ago, the Warriors may have been “pretending” a bit on the defensive end at North Andover and nearly paid the ultimate price before some last-second David Giribaldi heroics.
This was a different story, though, as Andover broke out to a 10-0 lead before the home crowd, withstood a three-point third quarter and allowed Giribaldi to seal the deal with 12 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth.
“Offensively, we’re still an absolute mystery,” said Fazio. who saw the Warriors grind to a halt in the 3-point third only to flow like the Shawsheen River on a spring morning with 26 points in the fourth.”
“We’ve got the freshman (E.J. Perry IV) and we’ve got an absolute killer at the two guard (in Giribaldi), but after that we’re still trying to find ourselves. We lose (center Connor Merinder) at times, and that really hurts us.”
What the Warriors are certainly, with the Division 1 North tourney right around the corner, is dangerous.
And the challenge of facing them is something first year North Andover coach Paul Tanglis was looking forward to.
“Competing with Andover in an atmosphere like this will only help us,” said Tanglis, whose club made its run in the third, slicing the lead from 14 down to 5 at 33-28 heading to the fourth.
“We battled back, but we put ourselves in a hole because we just didn’t value every possession.”
Senior John Pisacreta helped keep the Warriors afloat through quarters two and three, tossing in 15 points.
Merinder had just six points but was again a horse on the backboards.
John Enright paced the 11-5 Knights with 16 points. Wabissa Bede added 13, and Brett Daley fought through some nasty foul trouble to finish with 10.
Andover 59, North Andover 45
NA (45): Spencer Reeve 2 0-0 4, Wabissa Bede 4 3-6 13, James Testa 1 0-0 2, John Enright 6 2-3 16, Brett Daley 3 2-2 10. Totals 16 8-11 45
Andover (59): Ben Brown 1 3-3 5, E.J. Perry 3 0-0 8, John Pisacreta 6 1-2 15, David Giribaldi 9 2-2 23, Connor Merinder 2 2-4 6, Greg Dreyfus 1 0-0 2. Totals 22 8-11 59
3-pointers: NA — Bede, Enright 2, Daley 2; A — Perry 2, Pisacreta 2, Giribaldi 3
North Andover (11-5, 9-5): 6 10 12 17 — 45
Andover (13-3, 11-3 MVC ): 17 13 3 26 — 59