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February 27, 2010

Tourney loss can't mask Whittier's gains

BEDFORD ¬­¬­— Where a high school basketball career ends, with a senior fighting back tears after defeat, a future has been spawned.

Tito Pizarro's Whittier Tech basketball ride ended in a tiny, lyrical hardwood bandbox here at Bedford High School, 87-47.

"After all the losing (17-43 the previous three seasons), I never thought we'd win like this," said Pizarro, one of five Whittier seniors who played their last game last night. "I'm really surprised by it. We stayed together as a family, and (first-year coach Tom Sipsey) made us believe in ourselves."

Pizarro and Sipsey made an instantaneous connection well before the season began. It might have been at that point that Sipsey realized that he belonged at Whittier.

"They had an open gym at the Boys Club before the season, and even then I could see that he was a leader, the kind of kid we needed," said Sipsey. "Without him this year, we aren't 14-8, we're 8-14."

Despite a rough start, Pizarro stands at the front of what Sipsey hopes to be a line of Wildcat success stories.

In a trying first month, the lean senior sat five games to open the year for an out-of-school violation.

"It was tough, that whole situation," said Pizarro. "I definitely learned from it. I grew from it."

Sipsey, looking to set an example, could have quit on Pizarro. Instead, the coach fought for him.

"Here's a kid whose mother left when he was five, and he's been in different foster homes," said Sipsey. "Basketball has been all he's had. He gave us all he had."

Pizarro returned with a vengeance, averaging 15.8 points a game, leading the Cats to their best season since 1995 and erasing a four-year state tournament drought. Whittier's first-round win over Pentucket was the program's first tourney victory since 1996.

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