By Steve Palladino
NORTH ANDOVER - Throughout the fourth quarter North Andover played with a sense of desperation.
But in the end, it was the desperation from the Lynn Classical side that put an abrupt ending to the Knights' season.
Top-seed North Andover battled back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to even the count in the final seconds, then watched its comeback dream shattered on a 27-foot three-point toss at the buzzer.
Classical's Jasper Grassa (31 points), bound for Bentley University in the fall, used the backboard on his long-range 3-pointer as the clock expired to snap the second half's only tie and deliver a crushing 58-55 defeat to North Andover.
No. 8 Lynn Classical (15-7) moves on to meet No. 5 Reading in the Division 2 North semifinals, Wednesday night in Lawrence. The Knights conclude their season at 19-3.
"It is so tough to believe that it is over," said senior center Alex Blane, who was the lead man in a fourth quarter wrecking crew for North Andover and scored 13 of his 15 points during the final eight minutes.
The buzzer-beating drama came following two Scott Ricketts (8 points) free throws with 7.3 seconds left, which evened the count at 55-55. Grassa had just missed the front end of a one-and-one and went after the rebound and fouled Ricketts in the process, at the other end of the court.
"I thought we would have the momentum going into the overtime but those are the shots that he (Grassa) takes."
The other side of North Andover's successful fourth quarter equation was sharp-shooting guard Tommy O'Connell, who finished with a team-best 17 and delivered a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the final minutes.
"We started to play North Andover basketball during the fourth quarter," said O'Connell, who had five long-range shots in his final high school game.
For the first three quarters North Andover was having trouble in its attempt to break through the puzzling zone that Lynn Classical offered. Unable to get inside to Blane, North Andover found its offense stifled as the Classical defense was keyed on O'Connell.
"It was tough for us to move and cut (on their zone)," said Blane. "They are quick and active."
North Andover found itself in a 43-28 hole after the third quarter, with that distance created by a quarter-ending 11-2 Lynn Classical run.
"(In the fourth quarter) we finally found something that worked," said Blane, who had a pair of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to spark the comeback.
The Knights opened the fourth quarter with a 12-4 blitz to cut the deficit to seven (47-40) when Matt Sifferlen made a swift under hand move with 5:02 to play.
"It takes a lot of character to come back in that situation and these kids displayed that today," said North Andover head coach Mike McVeigh.
"Alex just willed his way to the hoop in the fourth quarter," said McVeigh. "And Tommy is a confident man who wants to take the shots."
With both confidence and momentum on North Andover's side, O'Connell pulled the Knights within three (48-45) with a long-distance shot with 4 minutes to play.
"We were getting some good defensive stops and had the crowd behind us and we started to pound it to the big man (Blane) inside," said O'Connell.
The game stayed close and North Andover pulled to within two and, following a Classical turnover, had the ball with 32 seconds left. However, that trip came up empty and set the stage for the Grassa free-throw miss and the Ricketts' two successful free throws.
Then, the ultimate heart breaker for North Andover.
"We kept our heads up and worked together and we almost got it done," said O'Connell.
Lynn Classical 58, North Andover 55
Division 2 North quarterfinals
Lynn Classical (58): Ariel Ligonde 1-0-2, Nick Grassa 2-0-5, Carlo Buono 2-2-7, Josh Imadiyi 2-0-6, Jasper Grassa 9-11-31, Tony Wonde 3-0-7. Totals 19-13-58
North Andover (55): Zach Iovanella 1-0-2, Tommy O'Connell 6-0-17, Scott Ricketts 3-2-8, Matt Sifferlen 2-0-4, Zach Karalis 3-0-7, Derek Collins 0-2-2, Ryan Bruynell 0-0-0, Alex Blane 4-7-15. Totals 19-11-55
3-pointers: LC — Jasper Grassa 2, Imadiyi 2, Nick Grassa, Buono, Wonde; NA — O'Connell 5, Karalis
Lynn Classical (15-7):13�Ç10�Ç20�Ç15 — 58
North Andover (19-3):12�Ç�Ç9�Ç�Ç7�Ç27 — 55