HAVERHILL – While losing any championship tilt is disappointing, the State Vocational Large School title isn’t the ultimate prize Whittier has been building toward the past three years.
Yesterday, the Wildcats rallied from a 14-point, late-third-quarter deficit but could not overcome Greater New Bedford’s zone defense as the Bears claimed the crown with a 69-63 victory. The Bears’ win atoned for Whittier’s 17-point thumping in last year’s semifinals.
Yesterday, the Wildcats struggled from the field, making 24 of their 75 shots (32 percent) and only seven of 30 (23.3 percent) from three-point range.
“We’ve been pretty good against the zone this year, actually,” said Whittier coach Tom Sipsey, whose squad cut the deficit to three in the fourth quarter but couldn’t cap the rally. “We’ve been better than last year. We’ve got some zone stuff that works, but we just didn’t play well.
“Anytime you spot a team (14) points — especially a team that’s good — you can’t expect to win. We fought back, though.”
The Wildcats, seeded third in the Division 3 North Sectional, play host to Amesbury in first-round action Wednesday. Whittier (19-2) is two wins shy of tying the school wins mark set by last year’s sectional quarterfinalist.
“I think when I first started here (four years ago), I didn’t understand the vocational tournament,” said Sipsey, whose team won it last year. “But I value it because I think Whittier is a great school, and the vocational programs they have here are tremendous. I value that and what this community does for my kids.”
Whittier, which held just one lead yesterday at 5-4, showed glimpses of the play needed for a deep playoff run. Justin Reyes (22 points, 17 rebounds) had a huge third quarter with eight points, seven boards and three blocked shots.