FITCHBURG -- Top seeded Fitchburg came into Monday evening's Monty Tech Summer Basketball League game undefeated at 6-0, while the Patriots were at 4-2.
The Red Raiders opened the game on a 6-0 run, but North Middlesex refused to pack it in. North Middlesex senior John Boutwell paced the Patriots with 11 points and seven rebounds in the team's 44-41 loss.
The Patriots used a 10-2 run to take a slim two-point lead on the very athletic Fitchburg line-up. Drew Patno, in conjunction with the strong passing of Ryan MacDonald at the point guard position, helped North Middlesex claw back. Fitchburg burned a time-out with 12 minutes remaining in the opening half in the hope that it would cut into the surging Patriots' momentum.
North Middlesex trailed Fitchburg at half-time by one, 14-13, but started to find its rhythm after intermission. Within the first four minutes of the second half, North Middlesex took a 19-14 lead following a mid-range jump shot from Boutwell.
However, good teams always find a way to stay in the game.
Fitchburg center Kennedy Addo made certain that the Red Raiders would do just that with back-to-back put-back hoops bringing Fitchburg within one with five minutes left in the half.
Fitchburg forward Anthony Salome (13 points) drained consecutive three-points to grow the Red Raiders' lead to 24-19 with 9:30 remaining. Patno converted on a fast-break lay-up and freshman Zach Collins drained a three-pointer from the left side to deadlock North Middlesex and Fitchburg at 24-24.
MacDonald slashed into the paint and dished to Patno, who was wide open in the corner for a three-pointer, which put the Patriots up 27-24. The North Middlesex offense stalled and Fitchburg strung together a mini 7-0 run to take a 31-24 lead with five minutes remaining in the game.
North Middlesex roared back when Patno drove to the basket and drew a foul on Fitchburg's Manny Payton (8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks). Patno converted the free-throw to bring the Patriots back in striking distance at 33-30.
Payton and Geraldo Santiago netted back-to-back lay-ups to push the lead to seven with less than five minutes left. Patno hit a three-pointer to keep the Patriots in the thick of it.
North Middlesex drew within one point late in the second half, but was forced to foul and Fitchburg converted its free throws to lock up the win.
Patno finished the game with a team-high 11 points and five rebounds.
Addo led the Red Raiders with 12 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
North Middlesex is back in action Monday night at 7 p.m. against Leominster (5-1).
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