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FITCHBURG — There haven’t been many years in the last 20 where St. Bernard’s basketball coach Mark Pierce has had to make wholesale changes to his team: he’s always had a solid returning core with which to build and compete, year in and year out.

This year, he has two returning players. The rest are new, and it should be expected that it will take time for the team to gel.

And for the first three minutes in the Bernardians’ opener with North Middlesex Regional, the growing pains were evident as St. B’s went 0 for its first 7 shots.

But a 17-2 run changed the complexion of the ballgame, and the Bernardians rolled the rest of the way to a 66-50 win over the Patriots at the Activity Center.

Joe Couto and Zach Collins (team-high 15 points, seven rebounds, three steals) each buried 3-pointers to get the visitors on the board.

Collins fed Brendan Sullivan (9 rebounds) after breaking the Bernardian press for a shorty, but that would end up being North Middlesex’s last bucket for the next 5:10 as the Blue and Gold fought back to take the lead for good.

“I thought we were a little tentative with what we were trying to do,” said NM coach Michael Schultze. “I thought we had some guys not playing with a ton of confidence. We turned the ball over, guys were rushing through some things. We were a little late on some of our helps; we were having trouble keeping (Alexandre) in front of us there.

“He’s very good with the ball, he’s quick, changes directions well, draws contact well, and if you do step up on him, he’s good with the late dish.”

Triples by Kyle Blaisdell, Jake Morse, and Jake Talmer pulled the Pats to within 12 late in the third.

North Middlesex would cut it to 11, 49-38, as Collins hit Kyle Perry (9 points, 9 rebounds) for a reverse layup to begin the fourth, but that was as close as the Patriots would get on this night.

— SEAN SWEENEY

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