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Nipmuc Boys Pull off First Round Upset

Nipmuc boys' basketball coach Jim Grant has talked all season about the difficult schedule his team has faced. In high school hoops, scheduling tough can be a double-edged sword. Qualifying for the district tournament and one's seed in the tournament is dependent upon won-lost record, and the Warriors made it as a 14 seed by finishing 10-10, just barely enough wins to qualify. On the flip side, Nipmuc proved its mettle by scoring a 68-60 overtime win over third-seeded Uxbridge in the tournament's opening round.
"To knock off a three seed is always a great thing," said Grant. "But we were able to beat a quality team who had just won the Clark Tournament at their place, we showed we are a very tough 14 seed."
Nipmuc got out to one of its best starts of the season, scoring a season high 34 points in the first half to build a 34-22 lead. Nate Bertrand led the way with 11 points including a trio of three-pointers, and finished the game with 16. Joe Mespelli scored nine in the first half en route to a game-high 26 points. "Sometimes we expect the big games from Mespelli, because he has been huge all season for us," said Grant. "But to get that kind of production from Nate was a huge boost for us."
Nipmuc was also able to win the battle on the boards as well as in the turnover department. The Warriors pulled down 28 defensive rebounds and forced 13 first half turnovers for Uxbridge while coughing it up only five times. "I can't say enough about our man-to-man defense and rebounding," said Grant. "We had a full week off, which can hurt a team, but we came out strong and ready to play."
Grant anticipated a run from Uxbridge, and it came in the second half. Led by 6'5" center Corey Gomez, the three seed was able to steadily cut into the lead and tied the game on a driving lay-in in the final seconds of regulation. In overtime, Nipmuc outscored Uxbridge 12-4, thanks to Derek Moore shutting down Gomez on the defensive end. Mespelli hit all four of his free throws in the extra session, and Darren Moore went two for two from the line to help ice it.
"We switched Derek on Gomez in the second half, because he's a bit taller, and he did a great job defensively," said Grant. "And everyone was able to contribute on the boards."
Darren Moore paced the rebounding effort with 12, Derek Moore finished with six, while Bertrand pulled down eight boards. "Getting eight rebounds from our skinny two-guard (Bertrand) was great, especially since many of them were defensive boards to limit them to one shot," said Grant.
Nipmuc moved on to the second round and a match-up with sixth seeded Lunenburg, who comes in 13-7 after beating Narrangsett 68-47 in the opening round; another tough test for a well-tested Nipmuc team.
"We may be a 14 seed, but our kids work as hard as anyone," said Grant. "If we stick to what we do well, defense and rebounding, I think we can play with anybody."
For an update on Nipmuc's game against Lunenburg, visit www.towncrier.us.




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