Somebody please wake up the Bambino. He might want to hear about this one.
What was starting to seem like the second longest-running curse in local sports history has finally been lifted, as the _Tewksbury High boys basketball team _put together its best game of the season and ended a 35-month home losing streak with a 61-46 victory over Chelmsford Friday night at the TMHS gym.
The Redmen had last won a game inside the dark, chilly confines of the Tewksbury High gym in February of 2009 when they knocked off Melrose late in the 2008-2009 season. Not one of the players on this year's varsity squad had ever experienced a home victory. Until Friday night.
"It feels great. It feels awesome," _said senior captain Mike Doucette,_ who led all scorers with 15 points in the game. "It took long enough, you know. It's like, finally...I'm just glad we got the win."
"We felt like we were gonna get a win eventually because we work hard in practice every day," _said senior sharp shooter Bobby Lumbard _(nine points). "Coach tells us that eventually it will definitely pay off, and it did tonight."
The Redmen came out clicking on all cylinders and scored the game's first six points on their way to a 14-9 first quarter advantage. Tewksbury committed only one turnover in the first quarter, and things got even better in the second period as the Redmen played near flawless basketball and extended their lead to 38-14 at the half.
Doucette scored 10 of his 15 points in the second quarter as the Redmen shot 7-for-8 from the free throw line, out-rebounded Chelmsford by a large margin and held the Lions scoreless for the final 5:38 of the quarter. Tewksbury ran off 15 straight points during that stretch, turning a 23-14 lead into a 38-14 advantage at halftime.
"We were in a rhythm in the first half," Lumbard said. "Emotionally and on the scoreboard, it was the best first half we've played since I've been here."
Chelmsford found its shooting touch in the second half and kept the score respectable, but the Lions only closed to within 20 points in the final two minutes of the game. First-year TMHS head coach Phil Conners was able to substitute for his starters and let the home crowd give them a standing ovation late in the fourth quarter.
"Finally, a win," said Conners through a big smile afterward. "I knew eventually we could start knocking teams off, and we really broke through tonight. But you could see it coming against teams like Melrose and Andover, when we fought hard against good teams.
"Today, everything went the way it was supposed to," Conners added. "We had them stymied defensively in the first half and our shots went in. Offensively we took care of the ball, we moved it, and guys were hitting the open guy. It's contagious when it starts going like that."
The win was clearly Tewksbury's best all-around team effort, as senior forward Sean Foley contributed a career-high 13 points and a strong rebounding effort, and sophomore guard Kevin Dick had a season-high 12 points, draining four three-pointers. Senior guard Anthony Chiccarelli added five points and a strong defensive effort while freshman guard Alex DiRocco scored five points, including a rare four-point play during which he was fouled while hitting a three-point shot.
Senior forward Chris Fandel came off the bench to clean house on the boards and chip in two points and an electrifying blocked shot.
Conners credited Doucette with his best all-around game of the year, on a night that also happened to be his 18th birthday.
"Deuce got to the line consistently and hit seven out of eight free throws," Conners said. "You're not a scorer just by shooting threes. You've got to take it to the basket and he did that."
Although Conners was only at the helm for four of the nearly 25 games in the losing streak, the coach was clearly relieved to see it end.
"I was kind of sick of hearing about it, but since people kept talking about it, we used it as a motivating tool," Conners said. "We knew this was a game we could get if we played well, so we said 'Hey, let's get this off our backs.' And we did. It was one of the goals we had for this year, to end that streak."
Tewksbury's other goals are to win the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 championship and qualify for a state tournament berth. Friday night's win was important on both of those fronts, as it gave the Redmen (3-6 overall, 2-1 in MVC Division 2 play) a share of first place in the MVC Division 2 standings.
Finishing first or second in the MVC's small school division would automatically qualify Tewksbury for a state tournament berth. The Redmen return to action Tuesday night in an important MVC Div. 2 game at Haverhill.
"Our goals are realistic," Conners said. "We want to win the small schools and get into the state tournament, and I think we're capable of that.
"If we shoot like we did tonight, we're capable of beating anybody," he added. "But defensively, if we keep doing what we've been doing, we'll have a shot."