NEWBURYPORT — The No. 13 seed Swampscott boys basketball team fought to overcome a 13-point second quarter hole but lost a heartbreaker, 46-44, at No. 4 Newburyport a Division 3 North first-round game Monday night.
The Big Blue held a three-point lead with just 16 seconds to go, but the Clippers scored the final five points, including a steal and layup at the buzzer by George Coryell.
“Our team knows what we’ve struggled with this season,” Swampscott coach Justin Fucile said. “But they know that our mentality is we never stop playing as hard as we possibly can. They did that tonight. They kept going at it the whole game. It’s just shame that we couldn’t get the win. We really wanted that 10th win for our season. I feel terrible for my senior class because they’re great players and even better people.”
Freshman Cam O’Brien had a great offensive game for the Big Blue, scoring 19 points and hauling in seven rebounds.
“Cam’s a competitor,” Fucile said. “He’s come a long way in terms of how he understands to play the game. He came in as a star eighth-grader and gets thrown on a varsity team the next year. It was hard for him to accept a lesser role. He stood up when we need him. He made big shots and really kept us going. We needed one player to step up for us and he did that.”
Andrew Augustin (nine points, four rebounds and four steals) and Jackson Byrne (seven points, seven rebounds and two steals) also made key plays.
The Big Blue struggled to get much going on early on, with several costly turnovers and a pair of travels in the first quarter. The Clippers took full advantage, jumping out a 15-5 lead.
Swampscott cut the Clippers lead to 19-11 before the second thanks to a run capped by a Byrne 3-pointer, but it didn’t take long for Newburyport to get back on track. Swampscott only scored four points in the second quarter and Newburyport took a 27-15 lead into the half.
The Clippers got their lead up to 13 points in the second half, but it was clear that Swampscott looked like a new team on both sides of the ball. O’Brien provided the spark the Big Blue needed with a pair of baskets to cut the Clippers lead to 32-23.
The Big Blue kept the streak going with a basket from Chris Campos and a pair of free throws by Augustin to get within five before the fourth quarter.
Augustin jumped in front of a pass for a steal and hit two free throws later in the possession to cut the Clippers lead to 34-33 in the early minutes of the final period. A few minutes later, O’Brien added another free throw to tie the game and hit a jump shot on the next possession to give the Big Blue their first lead of the game at 36-34. And the freshman wasn’t done, going to the line on Swampscott’s next possession and hitting a pair of free throws to pad the lead to 38-34.
But the lead was short lived. Casey McLaren hit back-to-back 3-pointers to help the Clippers go back up by three with less than two minutes to go. Once again, O’Brien came through for Swampscott, adding a pair of free throws and a basket to give the Big Blue a 42-41 lead.
After another pair of free throws by Byrne put Swampscott up 44-41, Newburyport called a timeout for what looked like would be its final possession. Ryan Archie came through for the Clippers, hitting a deep three to keep Newburyport alive and tie the game at 44-44.
Swampscott called a timeout to set up a final play with five seconds to go but Coryell stole the ball after an inbound pass and made that game-winning layup.
“That last play of the game, that was just a malfunction,” Fucile said. “That’s all I can say about that. We had a couple malfunctions late in the second quarter which were costly. We had Jackson Byrne our shooter open and we weren’t getting him the basketball. That proved costly.”
Despite a heartbreaking ending to a 9-12 season, Fucile said that he’s proud of how his team grew together throughout the season.
“This squad is a fun group to coach,” Fucile said. “There’s a lot of different personalities on the team. They gelled together when they needed to. That’s the most fun I had this year was seeing their personalities come together eventually. They pulled off some great wins this year.”