Gaels stays close to losing to Oakmont in new tournament
WORCESTER — In an edge-of-your-seat game, with crowded sections of students cheering loudly at opposite ends of the gymnasium, the Clinton High School boys’ basketball team lost a 46-38 decision to Oakmont Regional , in the championship game, of the Midland-Wachusett League Inaugural Class B Tournament, Saturday, Feb. 19, at Worcester State University.
In order to qualify for the title, the Gaels took a 62-51 decision against North Middlesex Regional in the semi-finals of the tournament and beat Lunenburg 73-43 in the quarter-finals.
Against top seed Oakmont, second seed Clinton was led by junior Owen Breidel, who scored a team-high 15 points, while second Abdiel Zapata and senior captain Jack Lewis scored nine and eight dots.
Spartans Jaylen Kirkland, a senior, led all scorers with 16 points.
Trailing 28-19 at halftime, the Gaels utilized a stifling defense in the third quarter, limiting Oakmont’s powerful offense to just four points.
After three frames, the Spartans led 33-27, but Clinton had narrowed the gap to just six points.
Fueled by a monster 3-pointer from Breidel to open the fourth quarter, the Gaels went on an 8-4 run to close within two points, 37-35, with four minutes left in the game.
However, Oakmont, who is in Mid-Wach B, a division higher than Clinton, outscored the Gaels 9-3 in the streak to win the game.
“I’m proud of the kids,” Clinton coach Steve Manguso said. “They played so hard for the city, the school and their teammates.
“We certainly defended them well enough to win the game, but we had to find a few more hoops to do it,” he said. “This (tournament) was a great experience for the kids and it was worth it.
“The season is not over and we still have basketball to play,” added Manguso.
Spartans coach Danny Ortiz, who coached Nashoba until the 2017 state finals, knew he was up against a worthy opponent for Clinton.
“It was a tough game and Clinton gave us everything we could handle,” Ortiz said. “We had to do a big blow at the end with the shot clock.
“We didn’t play well in the third quarter, but it’s a credit to their defense,” he said. “In the second half, they spread their zone a bit, and we struggled with that.
“It’s a credit to them, and what they did defensively,” added Ortiz.
In the win over North Middlesex, another team that was a division higher than Clinton, Lewis scored a team-high 18 points. Zapata with 16 and Breidel with 13 were also in double figures for the Gaels.
“I thought (North Middlesex’s win) was a great team effort,” Manguso said. “I’m proud of the way our team played and we played well in D (defense) in this game.
“We got the ball where we wanted to get it offensively, and we did a good job,” he said. “We were getting some good shots in the first half, and I think we bounced back better as the game went on.
“I think it was Abdiel’s (Zapata) best game, and the sky is the limit for this kid,” Manguso said. “They (North Middlesex) are a tough side and an aggressive side, and a much bigger school.”
In the win over Lunenburg, senior captain Aidan Grady scored a game-high 20 points, with Breidel 14 and Lewis 13.
Breidel, the team’s second leading scorer, averaged 14 points per game in the tournament. He’s a power forward and, at 6ft 1, has made a big impact for the Gaels this season with a strong indoor game.
Breidel is the team’s leading rebounder and capable of lighting it up offensively, scoring 28 points against Ayer-Shirley on Monday (February 21).
“We put in a lot of effort to win those two games (North Middlesex and Lunenburg),” Breidel said. “It (the striker) was a change for me and I had to adapt this season to become a more inside player.
“I really grew to love it and I continue to work on it every day,” he said. “We had high expectations going into the season and we’ve had a great season so far.”
• On Monday, Clinton was back to winning ways with a convincing 59-42 victory over Ayer-Shirley. The Gaels improve to 15-5 on aggregate. They finished third in the Mid-Wach C division with a 9-4 mark.
• The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) State Basketball Tournament standings will be released tomorrow (Saturday, February 26).