EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 27, 2010

Tourney loss can't mask Whittier's gains

By Hector Longo

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.

Today, Pizarro has three different college options in the discussion: Endicott, Mass. College of Liberal Arts and Anna Maria, which was there to see him last night.

"Before this year, college simply wasn't an option," said Sipsey. "But his greats have improved, he's doing better and now those are real, legitimate possibilities for him.

Pizarro is a small victory, and Sipsey, with his appetite whet by this year is hungry for more.

No contest in quarters

Bedford's first hoop, a baseline 3-pointer by Kevin Cangiano clanged high off the front rim and nestled softly into the net.

When it dropped, you got the feeling Whittier might be in for a long night. The Cats were indeed, bowing out in the North quarters to the third-seeded Bucs.

Bedford led 24-8 after one and 49-15 at the break, hardly relenting despite coach Jim Byrnes' emptying the bench early.

Junior Chris Sheridan led the Cats, who finish at 14-8, with nine points on three second-half 3's. Dillon Ryan added eight.

Scrappy sophomore Gio Gomez finished with six, garnering a standing ovation for his outstanding effort from the classy Bedford student section as he fouled out in the third.

"That's the kind of program we are trying to build toward," said Sipsey. "We want to be like that someday.

"I know that in a week or two I'll be able to see that this season has been a real positive experience. When we opened up with Lynn Tech, there were 20 people in the stands. In our tourney opener with Pentucket, they brought a great crowd, and we brought a great crowd. We were able to build the atmosphere and make an environment the kids want to play in. That's important to me."

Bedford 87, Whittier 47

Whittier Tech (47): Dillon Ryan 3 0-0 8, Mills Carrasco 2 0-0 6, Tito Pizarro 2 2-7 6, Ryan Grant 1 3-4 5, Marck Galva 1 0-0 2, Gio Gomez 0 6-9 6, Alvin Taylor 1 0-0 3, Nino Sanchez 1 0-0 2, Chris Sheridan 3 0-0 9, Totals 14 11-20 47

Bedford (87): Kevin Cangiano 6 2-2 17, Justin McAfee 2 0-0 4, Brandon Watson 1 3-3 5, Michael Ingram-Rubin 7 8-8 24, Michael Dirrane 3 2-2 9, Nicklas Nocera 2 1-2 5, Michael Thorsen 1 2-3 4, Joel Rubenstein 1 0-0 2, Zack Berman 1 2-4 5, Christian Boiven 1 0-0 3, Michael Cusack Fitzgerald 2 1-1 5, Will Kopperl 1 0-0 2, Colin Petchek 1 0-1 2, Totals 29 21-25 87

3-pointers: WT SEmD Ryan 2, Carrasco 2, Taylor, Sheridan 3; B SEmD Cangiano 3, Ingram-Rubin 2, Dirrane, Berman, Boiven

Whittier (14-8):âÇ8âÇâÇ7âÇ17âÇ15 — 47

Bedford (16-6):24âÇ25âÇ19âÇ19 — 87