DERRY — A couple of New Hampshire teams which have had inconsistent season starts hooked up Friday night.
And while the first three quarters were indicative of their early play, Salem and Pinkerton put together a scintillating final period, combining for 50 points.
Salem watched the better part of a 17-point lead evaporate over the final five minutes, but the Blue Devils hung on for a 69-65 victory.
“We’re trying to get things figured out,” Salem coach Rob McLaughlin said after his squad moved above .500 at 4-3.
“If I knew the answer, we’d have it fixed by now. We started with some pressure today and I thought the energy was better. We have some guys who are maybe a bit more inexperienced this year, and we have to learn how to close.”
One player who knew how to close things Friday was Michael Ference, who came off the bench to score 18 points, including 12 from the line. Back-to-back free throws by the senior swingman provided the Blue Devils with their biggest lead at 60-43 with five minutes left.
And Ference went a long way fending off the Astros (1-6) by converting five of the eight free throws he attempted over the final 71 seconds.
“I was just trying to stay as calm as possible and shoot them like it was practice,” Ference said.
But even with Ference and Trevor DeMinico combining for all 19 Salem points in the quarter, Pinkerton never folded as the Astros cut the deficit to single digits on a Mike Packowski jumper with two minutes remaining.
A lay-up by James Flynn (team-high 17 points), a 3-point play by Nazair DaBreo and a trey by Will Warriner offset all the free throws by Ference and DeMinico. They made the score 67-63 with 17 seconds remaining.
And although a driving lay-up by Flynn with 7 seconds left wasn’t enough to complete the rally, they were the last of the incredible 31 points Pinkerton put on the board in the final period.
This is the same Astro team which entered the game averaging 42.8 points per game. In its first six games, one-win Pinkerton scored 9 points or fewer in 11 of the 24 quarters played. It had eclipsed 14 points in only two quarters until its 16-point third.
“We basically called them out,” Pinkerton coach Peter Rosinski said of the halftime talk. “We’re still in the process of trying to put the team together. They’re working hard. “Character is built when things don’t go you’re way. Tonight, they learned how to overcome adversity on a night when they could have packed it in. I’m proud of each of these boys.”
Salem, however, had done enough the opening three quarters to withstand the rally. The Blue Devils led by 10 midway through the first quarter and by 14 with 4:12 left in the second after a deep three from DiMinico
“We’ve been up and down all year,” said DeMinico, who finished with a game-high and season-high 22 points. “We’re just trying to get that consistent energy. We’ve been working hard in practice, but if we can keep our energy up, we can beat anyone.”
Salem 69, Pinkerton 65
SALEM (69): John Bennett 2, Trevor DeMinico 7 5-8 22, Tim Spampinato 3 0-0 6, Adan Ayala 5 1-2 12, Alex Devir 3 0-2 6, Jacob Bennett 1 0-0 3, Michael Ference 3 12-18 18. Totals 23 18-30 69
PINKERTON (65): Jimmy Flynn 18, Justin Dunne 12, Declan Conroy 9, Andy MacDonald 9, Nazair DaBreo 8, Will Warriner 6, Andy Bolduc 1, Miguel Mejia 1, Mike Packowski 1, Cam Leppert 0. Totals 24 8-16 65
3-POINTERS: Salem — DeMinico 3, Ayala, Ja.Bennett; Pinkerton — Flynn 3, Conroy 3, Warriner 2, MacDonald
Salem (4-3): 1 5 13 22 19 — 69
Pinkerton (1-6): 7 11 16 31 — 65