WORCESTER — Seldom has a victory left a team as dissatisfied as Groton-Dunstable’s Clark Tournament opening-round win over Shepherd Hill. When the Crusaders met Nipmuc in the semifinals, they were determined as a group to show the skill, athleticism and balance that made them the top seed.
Groton-Dunstable came out with fire in their eyes, holding the overmatched Warriors to just two points over the first five minutes with an intense and suffocating defensive effort. Offensively they hit Nipmuc with a little bit of everything — follow-up baskets, dunks and transition points with their quickness. The Warriors were never really in the game as the Crusaders rolled to a 58-39 win in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
“The kids came in focused and ready to play,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Keith Woods. “We did a much better job of protecting the ball than in our last game. Nipmuc is a well-coached team but I think our quickness affected their transition game.”
“Our goal coming into this game was to play strong defense, to play as a team and to cut our turnovers,” said Groton-Dunstable senior captain Ryan Romich, who finished with 12 points, 20 rebounds, three assists and two steals. “Getting off to such a quick start was big.”
“I thought about losing to Nipmuc in soccer,” said Groton-Dunstable point guard Derek McCaffrey, who scored 17 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, dished two assists and made two steals. I was able to get off to a quick start but then had to sit with two fouls. I hate sitting out. We didn’t play well in the first game of the tournament, but tonight we came out and played well.”
The Crusaders showcased a little bit of everything in their opening salvo, getting a lay-up by McCaffrey off a pass from Cam Willcox (eight points, five rebounds), two free throws by Dan Eipp (12 points, three assists), a follow-up basket and a steal for a lay-up by McCaffrey, and a follow-up basket and a thunderous dunk by Romich. At that point, Nipmuc called a timeout, trailing 12-2.
The closest the Warriors would get was early in the second quarter when Eric Slagal drained a 3-pointer to make it 17-10.
But the Crusaders had the answer with another Romich dunk, which along with intense defense fueled a 10-0 run. The Groton-Dunstable transition game was lethal in the run with drives by Willcox and Kyle Romich off passes from Kyle Romich and Joe Cullen, respectively. The prettiest collaboration was a fast break lay-up by Kyle Romich after gorgeous passes from Eipp and Ryan Romich. When Eipp ended the run with a fast break lay-up off a dish by Ryan Romich, the Crusaders led 27-10.
Nipmuc cut the lead to 30-16 at halftime and drew to within 30-18 when Chris Reiffarth opened the third quarter with a 15-footer, but McCaffrey pulled out the dagger and stuck it firmly into the Warriors with three consecutive three-pointers to build the lead to 18 at 39-21.
After a basket by Nipmuc’s Slagal, Romich picked up his third dunk of the game on an inbounds play to make it 41-23. The Warriors never got closer than 16 points the rest of the way.
The victory advanced the Crusaders into a match-up in the finals against Westboro. The teams split a pair of meetings in the regular season.
“We want another shot at Westboro,” said Romich. “We will use our speed and quickness against their size.”
Kyle Romich finished with eight points and five rebounds for the Crusaders.
Justin McCann and Slagal each scored eight points for Nipmuc, which dropped to 14-5 with the loss.
The victory advanced the Crusaders into the finals against MidWach B league-rival Westboro, who defeated Bartlett in a semi-final contest.