By Matt Jenkins
---- — PEABODY — Reading the bottom line only, John Preziosa's debut as the boys basketball coach at Bishop Fenwick goes down as a 76-62 loss to Catholic Central League foe Cardinal Spellman.
Preziosa couldn't be any more optimistic about the Crusaders, though, and he's eager to start the next chapter.
"I love this team. I really love the fight," Preziosa said. "I think if they come with that energy every night, we're going to win a lot more than we lose in this league."
Fenwick fell behind by 21 points (47-26) early in the third quarter but battled back to cut the deficit to just 10 (57-47) early in the fourth.
The Crusaders had done an excellent job holding back Stonehill College-bound point guard Ryan Roach through the first three quarters, but he responded to Fenwick's spurt by shaking loose for 11 of his 13 points in a three-minute stretch in the final quarter.
Dom Luoni's three from the right wing with 7:14 to go pulled Fenwick within 10, but shortly after Roach was fouled hard by Crusader forward Josh Niconchuk, which seemed to set Roach off.
"I think good players like that respond to contact," Preziosa said. "We hit him real hard under the basket and that's either going to make him shell up, or it's either going to make him fire up. I think we fired him up a little bit."
Roach hit a runner, turned a steal into a fast-break bucket, then finished on the break to push Spellman back up by 20.
"Getting Roach back in the game helps out," Cardinal Spellman coach Mike Perry said about Spellman's finishing stretch. "The other kids are going to be good players, but they're young and it's new for them. Roach is a pretty good point guard and he makes some good decisions and some good shots. We got two or three turnovers right away (when Fenwick cut it to 10) and converted, which is big psychologically."
Fenwick played with a lot of energy for most of the game, but struggled taking care of the basketball, especially in the fourth quarter. Shot selection is also something Preziosa has been harping on so far with the Crusaders.
"If we erase some of those turnovers and some of that bad shot selection, I think it's a six-point game coming down the stretch," Preziosa said.
"I think if you turn it over that many times, you're never going to beat anybody. I was a little disappointed in that, but surely not disappointed by the effort."
Luoni led Fenwick with 16 points and Matt Costello added 14. Travis Maxner and Rishad DeSilva each had eight for the Crusaders. Ten players scored for Fenwick.
Shooting guard Austin Joseph hit four threes and finished with a game-high 21 points. Brian Donohoe chipped in with 12 and Joey Crane scored 11.
Perry was happy to get out of the North Shore with a win, and he was impressed with the way Fenwick played in its first game under Preziosa.
"It's a credit to them; they're just coming off football. It's too close," Perry said about Fenwick's Super Bowl run in football. "I feel bad for the coaches and players. We've gone through that before; there's no time to get ready. Basketball gets the short end of the stick."
Niconchuk and Myles Connor, two members of the Fenwick football team, played last night and combined for seven points. David Hurley, a linebacker/offensive lineman, is on the team but was not dressed last night.
The late Thanksgiving holiday plus an early start to the schedule meant the Crusaders had less than two weeks of practice to prepare.
"I'm not a big excuse maker, but it was short especially with me taking over a new program and trying to instill some new things," said Preziosa, whose team plays Austin Prep on Tuesday. "I could have used maybe a couple extra days of practice, but I felt like we were ready. I was a little disappointed in our ball control. We turned the ball over way too much."