---- — 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.
Ryan Grant led the fourth-quarter rally that eventually cut the deficit to 66-63 with 42 seconds left, scoring 12 of his game-high 27 points.
But the 16-5 Bears made just enough of their free throws down the stretch to fend off the comeback.
Now, the senior-laden Wildcats have a new tournament to gear for. A tournament that would provide a much greater payoff.
“This week is what we live for,” Sipsey said. “This is why we play nonleague games. Why we do spring leagues and summer leagues and camps. And why guys work on their game. This is why we get excited here.
“I’ve always said I hope the four seniors (Grant, Reyes, Nathan Frongillo and Andrew Wells) who start and play the whole game get the success they deserve. They’ve had it in different ways, but in terms of the state tournament I’d love for them to be successful in the next few weeks.”
agateHed:New Bedford Tech 69, Whittier 63
agateText:Greater New Bedford (69):@zzAgate:agateText: Trevor Mena 4 3-6 11, Macabe Martins 2 2-2 6, Derek Lewis 2 1-1 5, Corey Ponte 10 1-2 24, Joe Walsh 1 0-0 2, Nick Portelance 6 7-8 19, AJ Nazario 0 1-2 1, Jakeem Gonzalez 0 1-2 1. Totals 25 16-23 69
agateText: Whittier (63):@zzAgate:agateText: Ryan Grant 10 2-2 27, Nathan Frongillo 1 1-1 3, Andrew Wells 2 3-3 9, Justin Reyes 10 2-5 22, Jaylin Deveau 1 0-0 2. Jesse Triplett 0 0-0 0. Totals 24 8-11 63
agateText:3-pointers:@zzAgate:agateText: GNB — Ponte 3; W — Grant 5, Wells 2.
agateText:Greater New Bedford (16-5):@zzAgate:agateText: 20 17 16 16 — 69
agateText:Whittier (19-3):@zzAgate:agateText: 12 16 19 16 — 63