By Jean DePlacido
---- — SALEM — Back in high school, Bryan Ortiz and Nick Grassa were rivals while playing for Salem High and Lynn Classical, respectively.
Now they’re teammates at Salem State University — and both played a huge role for the host Vikings in a come-from-behind 70-65 win over local rival Gordon College in the second half of a men’s/women’s doubleheader last night.
Ortiz pumped in a game-high 22 points while Grassa finished with 18. Ortiz also had five assists, setting up Grassa for his three-point shots to spark the home team’s rally.
“The local boys stepped up,” said Vikings head coach Chris Harvey, his team now 3-2 on the season. It’s better to win ugly than to lose ugly; this one was ugly. Gordon plays a sagging man-to-man defense and they overprotected our guards, who are quick.
“We were able to make our shots late in the game, and both Ortiz and Grassa are super competitive. They had it going with Bryan feeding Nick for the three’s.”
The Vikings trailed by 10 points with 11 minutes left, but cut it that deficit to four after a trey by Grassa. After Ortiz made two from the foul line (where he was 6-for-6 overall), Grassa nailed a three-pointer to put Salem State ahead for good, 65-64, with just 2:39 remaining.
“It definitely took a full team effort,” said Ortiz. “I was looking for (Grassa) when we needed outside shooting. He and I had a lot of tough battles with Salem and Classical; I remember how he always hit those shots. We were down the whole game tonight and had to pick up the intensity.”
The Fighting Scots (now 1-4) were led by 6-foot-9 center Hans Miersma, who owned the boards and both ends and finished with 18 rebounds and 21 points as well as nine blocked shots.
“He’s been shooting something like 75 percent this season,” Grassa said of Miersma. “He’s big and has good post moves. Anything that’s around the rim, he’s there. In that first half he was killing us.”
Gordon led, 29-24 at the half and drove to the lane at will while the Vikings had to settle for outside shots. But it was a different story late in the game when Salem State was able to drive the lane, led by Andrew White (13 points).
“We didn’t finish,” said Gordon coach Tod Murphy. “They hit big shots when they needed to; that was the difference at the end. The most important thing for us is that we took a step forward.”
In the opener, the Lady Vikings also came out on top, beating Gordon 70-59 to even their record at 3-3.
Senior captain Ginny Fleming from Peabody led the way for Salem State with 19 points, five rebounds and a steal while Rachael Carter chipped in with 17 points and seven rebounds.
“We came out flat with no energy,” said Salem State coach Michelle Cunningham. “Gordon mixed up defenses and never gave up. They’re a good team and hungry competitors.
“Fleming has put together a couple of real nice games in a row. She is a presence in the low post, and Carter knows her role on the team. We’re looking for them to score and they’ve responded.
“I went to my bench early and often, looking for more energy,” added Cunnigham. “We got that from freshmen Jess Kuzmickas (9 points) and Maggie Reilly (3 points, 5 rebounds). Their outside shooting and defense was good. They ‘re both trying to earn more playing time.”
For Gordon (2-2) Brooke Kratche had 19 points and eight rebounds while Lauren Kranyak chipped in with 13 points.