ANDOVER – It was another chapter in the never ending battle between public and prep schools — and it was a scorcher.

Andover went blow for blow with a team of prep school stars that included top-50 junior Terrance Mann of the Tilton School, but fell just short losing the Hoops for Hope final 61-60. Spears led Preps with 20 points.

“If they can play against these guys who are supposedly being recruited by D1 schools they can play against anyone in Massachusetts,” Andover coach Connor Arnold said. “These guys are kind of underdogs. They have been the past few years. They’ve been through a lot together. Finally they’re putting it together with leadership from Connor Merinder and David Giribaldi, who had a helluva a game. Chemistry’s great. They never let up.”

Andover had a chance late to win it but a David Giribaldi’s 3-point attempt grazed the front of the rim and Georgetown’s Johnny Spears (Pingree School) iced the game with a pair of clutch free throws.

From the opening tip the game was played at a March-like pace and was physically grueling on the inside. Neither team was able to get more than five points clear of the other, and there were 10 ties. The lead changes hands 13 times.

Andover used their chemistry and guile to contend with Preps’ outright speed early on. Preps’ Isaiah Robinson (Salisbury School) controlled the lane early, but Giribaldi put on a show from distance early and often. Robinson finished with 18 points while Giribaldi led all scorers with 25.

Everyone stepped up on defense for Andover. Ben Brown made life difficult for Preps’ guards while Merinder banged inside with Mann and Robinson.

“We’re a really disciplined team,” Giribaldi said. “We’re a defense-based team so we dug in on D, forced a few turnovers on them and I think that kept it a close game.”

The Warriors got solid minutes from rising freshman E.J. Perry IV who showed his raw ability and never looked flustered on the floor in one of his first big games.

“He’s still got a lot to work on, but he’s an unbelievable competitor,” Arnold said. “He’s got a really bright future. He’s one of the hardest workers I know. I expect a lot of great things from him.”

Spears shined for Preps, especially in the second half.

Fifteen of his points came in the final 15 minutes, and he scored six of Preps’ final 11 points. Mann and Kene Adigwe each had 10 points for Preps.

Even in defeat Giribaldi, who won the Mark Maher MVP award, said that it was still a quality performance.

“It’s always this intense with Andover,” Giribaldi said. “We always want to win. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but as long as we leave our (best effort) out there that’s all that matters to us.”

Giribaldi could take solace in the fact that he and his Warriors beat archrival Central Catholic in the semifinal. Despite a 40-point performance by Tyler Nelson, the Warriors cruised to a 63-52 win.

“I love beating Central,” Giribaldi said. “It’s always the best feeling.”

agateHed:Preps 61, Andover 60

agate_NBA_line4:Preps 26 35 — 61

agate_NBA_line4:Andover 29 31 — 60

agateText:Preps (61): Devlin 0-0-0, Mann 5-0-10, Howell 0-0-0, Ruffen 1-0-2, Adigwe 3-4-10, Meehan 0-0-0, T. Choh 0-0-0, Robinson 8-2-18, Spears 8-3-20, Bullen 0-1-1. Totals 25-10-61

agateText:Andover (60): Merinder 2-1-5, Pisacreta 2-4-8, Brown 1-1-3, Giribaldi 9-5-25, Perry 2-1-7, Wynn 0-0-0, Rodriguez 3-0-9, O’Connell 0-1-1, Morotta 0-0-0; Doherty 0-0-0; Ye 0-0-0. Totals 19-13-60

agateText:3-Pointers: Andover – Girabaldi 2, Rodriguez 3, Perry 2; Preps – Spears

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