By Evan Mugford
HAVERHILL — Both sides of the bleachers inside the Whittier Tech gymnasium were pulled out for the first time in years last night, and that proved to be a good sign for the host Wildcats.
Down 39-32 late in the third quarter, Whittier stormed back in the fourth quarter to earn a well-deserved 64-59 victory in part to the strong play of senior Hector "Tito" Pizarro (19 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals) and freshman Ryan Grant (21 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks), the sweet shooting of senior Dillon Ryan (12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) and the poise of sophomore Gio Gomez (7 points, 4 assists, 3 steals), who sank six clutch free throws down the stretch.
"We came in strong and we had a good attitude ... we just had to stay positive," said Pizarro. "We went down late, but we kept our heads in the game, played hard, and we didn't lose our momentum. We kept it the whole time."
Pentucket head coach Leo Parent was pleased with how his team played but attributed Whittier's athletic resolve as the difference.
"I thought it was a good game between two teams that were pretty evenly matched and played similar styles, but I think their quickness took its toll," said Parent. "I think we did a good job of slowing them down and holding them to 19 first-half points, but we couldn't seem to get a combination of stops and rebounds, and that came back and haunted us."
The first half was a defensive battleground that resulted in a 20-19 Pentucket lead.
For the Sachems in the first half, it appeared that the Wildcats had no answer for junior John Modlish (13 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks), who was effective on the block and on the glass as he collected seven rebounds.
The game heated up in the second half.
Thanks to sophomore Corey McNamara (11 points, 3 steals, 3 assists) finding his stroke, Pentucket built its largest lead of the game at the 1:57 mark of the third.
But, trailing 41-37, the Wildcats took charge midway through the final period.
At 5:36, a Ryan 3-pointer tied the game at 46-all, and another Grant trifecta gave Whittier its first lead since the early moments of the third. A McNamara 3-pointer pushed the Sachems back up by one, 49-48, but that would be Pentucket's last lead of the season.
Whittier's Ryan hit his fourth 3-pointer and nine late free throws turned the tide for good.
The No. 6-seed Wildcats advanced to the quarterfinals Friday at No. 3 Bedford.
Whittier 64, Pentucket 59
Division 3 North First Round
Pentucket (59): Beaton 2-0-4, McNamara 3-3-11, Brennan 3-0-6, Lataille 0-0-0, Doud 2-1-6, Dragon 7-3-17, Modlish 5-3-13, Spofford 1-0-2, Smaila 0-0-0. Totals 23-10-59
Whittier (64): Pizarro 8-4-21, Gomez 0-7-7, Corrasco 1-1-3, Ryan 4-0-12, Batista 0-0-0, Taylor 0-0-0, Galva 0-0-0, Grant 9-3-21, Wells 0-0-0. Totals 22-15-64
3-pointers: P — McNamara 2, Doud; W — Ryan 4, Pizarro
Pentucket (10-11):âÇ7âÇ13âÇ21âÇ18 — 59
Whittier (14-7):11âÇâÇ8âÇ18âÇ27 — 64