By Matt Jenkins
---- — DANVERS — A controversial call at the end of regulation may have cost the St. John’s Prep basketball team its season last night in a Division 1 quarterfinal against Andover.
Warriors sophomore guard David Giribaldi drove into the lane as time was winding down and hoisted up a contested layup that fell through the hoop. The basket was originally waved off by the officials, but Andover head coach Dave Fazio pleaded with the crew to talk it over. After a brief meeting the officials ruled it a good hoop, forcing overtime.
Andover then edged the Eagles in the extra frame to win, 62-59.
The Warriors will play Merrimack Valley Conference foe Central Catholic in the semifinals (time and place TBA).
The difficulty the officials faced with the final play of regulation was that Andover was shooting at the end of the gym that does not have a scoreboard. The jam-packed gym was also extremely loud, making it hard to hear the buzzer sound.
“It was definitely late, but they didn’t hear (the horn), I guess,” St. John’s (19-3) coach Sean Connolly said. “I guess they didn’t want to call it.”
One official immediately waved off the hoop, but an animated Fazio quickly approached the three-man crew on the court, begging for an explanation. After separating from Fazio, the officials decided to overturn the original ruling.
“I saw the ball go in the basket. That was it,” Fazio said. “If they took that away from our kids I think I’d still be laying on the court right now. They would have had to put me in handcuffs.”
Andover seemingly had the St. John’s Prep offense in handcuffs all night, especially in overtime.
St. John’s only had one field goal in the extra four minutes, and that came when junior guard Max Burt made a steal and converted the layup to the give the hosts a 58-57 lead with 56 seconds left.
Andover came right back to take control with senior forward Sam Dowden (game-high 19 points) converting an old-fashioned three-point play. Classmate Chris Dunn then made two free throws down the stretch to give the Warriors a three-point lead.
The Prep had a chance to tie, but Tyler Dooley’s contested three-pointer came up short as time expired.
“We didn’t want to play them; we were hoping for a different draw,” Fazio said. “We were relentless. We got down, but kept fighting and fighting.”
Giribaldi was arguably the most relentless player for the Warriors. Held scoreless in the first half, the sophomore was unfazed. He scored all 12 of his points after intermission, including the overtime-forcing layup and a three in overtime that knotted the score at 53-53.
“He’s relentless, and he’s the most fearless kid we’ve ever had in our program,” Fazio said. “He is a sophomore and he fears nobody. He could kick the ball out of bounds, make a bad defensive play, then come down and hit a three.”
St. John’s ended up getting balanced scoring, but it was a struggle all night. Josh Syska led the way with 16, including a baseline jumper with seven seconds left in regulation that gave the Eagles a 48-46 lead, but he fouled out in overtime. Dooley scored 13, Drex Costello had 11, and Burt contributed 10.
The Eagles struggled at the free throw line all night. They finished 17 for 33 for the game, but that was after they cleaned up the problem and converted 9 of 12 in overtime.
“I don’t know if it was a mental thing or what, but that was one of the main reasons why we lost the game,” Connolly said.
Connolly did give credit to Andover for fighting hard the entire night, and he likes their chances the rest of the way.
“They’re a similar team to us. They play hard, they defend, they’re physical, so we knew it was going to be a war,” Connolly said. “We knew whoever gets by this game had a good chance to make run in the tournament too. We expected this type of game.”