By Nick Curcuru
---- — GLOUCESTER — When a game gets tight late in the fourth quarter, big time players rise to the occasion.
On Sunday afternoon in the first round of the 8th Annual Bank Gloucester Holiday Tournament, Manchester Essex senior guard Petey Morton proved to be a big time player. The Hornets senior captain, who led the team with 20 points on the afternoon, nailed a pair of fourth quarter three pointers, the last one coming with 22 seconds left from well beyond the arc from the middle of the floor giving the Hornets a 59-58 win.
“Pete hit two huge shots. Big time, big player shots to come down the middle of the floor and bury those threes,” Hornets head coach Bryan Shields said.
Generals head coach Doug Hoak also tipped his cap to Morton.
“Obviously Morton stepped up big for them,” Hoak said. “Those two big threes killed us. We had them on the ropes and he brought them back twice.”
With the win, three-time defending tournament champion Manchester Essex (3-0) moves to the final to take on host Gloucester, who it beat in the finals each of the last two seasons, tonight back at the Benjamin A. Smith Fieldhouse (7:30 p.m.). Hamilton-Wenham (3-1) takes on Ipswich in the consolation game at 6.
The teams entered the fourth quarter with the Hornets clinging to a 44-42 lead in a game where the biggest lead was just seven points, and that came in the first quarter (17-10 Manchester Essex).
Just like they had for the previous three quarters, the Hornets and Generals continued to trade buckets in the final frame.
Hamilton-Wenham opened up the frame on a 6-0 run to take a 48-44 lead. But each time the Generals punched, the Hornets punched back going on a 6-0 run of their own to take a 50-48 lead with five minutes to play.
The two teams saw themselves tied at 53 with two minutes to play. That’s when both teams delivered big shot after big shot.
Max Zegarowski put the Generals up 56-53 by sinking a three pointer from the corner with 1:38 to play. But Morton answered with his first big three of the quarter from the same spot as the game winner to tie the score at 56 with 1:24 to go.
The Generals were not done from there as their leading scorer Henry Eagar (game high 22 points) slashed into the lane and converted a shot to make it 58-56 with 40 seconds to play.
“There were big plays from both teams down the stretch,” Hoak said. “In the end, they probably made two more plays than us. It’s a tough one to swallow and it would have been a tough one to swallow no matter who lost.”
Morton, however, would answer again with 22 seconds left to make it 59-58 and the Hornets defense would defend one last Generals shot in the final seconds to preserve the win.
“It was a barn burner for sure,” Shields said. “A fun game but stressful. We were a little tentative today and didn’t shoot the ball the way we are able to but we worked hard and dug in when we needed to and it won us the game.”
Manchester Essex broke out to a 17-10 lead in the first quarter, but the Generals erased that lead with a 7-0 run to tie up the score early in the second quarter. From there, neither team was able to pick up any breathing room and the teams went into the half with the Hornets leading 28-26.
Hamilton-Wenham opened up a 40-35 lead late in the fourth but the Hornets closed the frame on a 9-2 run to take a two point lead into the final eight minutes of play.
Manchester Essex will meet Gloucester in tonight’s final. The Fishermen took care of Ipswich, 84-49. Hamilton-Wenham and Ipswich will play in the consolation game.
Matt Jaeger scored 14 points and Kyle Blomster and Ben Rice each added 10 points for the Tigers, who slipped to 0-4.