PELHAM — Ryan Frank has buried a plethora of 3-pointers in his Pelham High career. Few have ever felt so good.
“He hit that and it was like it took this giant weight flew off our shoulders,” said Python coach Matt Regan of the third-quarter triple. “I think the rest of our guys saw that one go and immediately relaxed.”
No. 13 Merrimack Valley’s upset chances were doused, and No. 4 Pelham, which trailed 21-20 at the half, rode that momentum to a 20-7 barrage and ultimately a 57-41 Division 2 playoff-opening round victory.
The Pythons will host No. 5 Bishop Brady here at the Snake Pit, Saturday night at 7 p.m.
“I think we all relaxed after that,” said junior big man Ryan Cloutier. “We started running and that’s when we got going.”
Until the middle of the third quarter, Pelham had been relying on Keith Brown and Jake Vaiknoras to shoulder the load. To that point, Pelham had one non-Vaiknoras/Brown hoop, a lay-in by Mike Pelletier that came off a sweet Vaiknoras dish.
But MV had adjusted in an attempt to choke out the two big guns. Somebody had to crack the ice. Frank did — pushing Pelham’s advantage to 32-23. Then Cloutier rocked the rim and closed the deal.
The 6-foot-4 Cloutier pounded home a right-handed slam. On the next Pelham trip, the big fella spotted up outside the arc and exhibited his range, splashing a trey for an 11-point lead.
He finished with eight in the second half, proving to be the perfect complement to Brown up front.
“I think all night long we knew if we kept running they would tire,” said Cloutier.
When the Pride did, Brown made them pay. Continuing a monster sophomore campaign, the 6-foot-1 forward looked straight up at his foes and chopped them down to size in a 29-point, 11-rebound effort. He was an efficient 12 of 20 from the field.
Vaiknoras finished with 10 points, five assists and three steals.
“We told them at halftime, we played poorly and were down by one,” said Regan. “I thought we were in pretty good shape, and once we started to play defense, that was it.”