LAWRENCE, Mass. -- It was an ending eerily similar to a quality sports movie.
Down 11 points going into the fourth quarter Wednesday night against North Andover, in a semifinal of the Greater Lawrence Holiday tournament, any hope of a Lawrence victory was gone. They appeared defeated before actually being defeated.
One couldn’t blame the Lancers though. They had been playing from behind the whole game.
Then suddenly, a minute into the quarter, it was a 10-point game. A minute after that, it was an 8-point game. With three minutes to go, it was a 6-point game. Then, with under two minutes to go, the Lancers seized the lead to escape with a 52-47 win that puts them in Friday's final against familiar rival Central Catholic.
With each bucket, the home crowd got a bit louder. In a matter of minutes, everyone in the building, including North Andover, felt like it might not be over after all.
As the score got tighter and the all-powerful momentum was securely in the Lancers’ corner, their defensive intensity started to pick up.
Earlier in the game, Lawrence was having trouble letting North Andover players get behind them when they were pressing. After giving up transition baskets and outlet passes, the Lancers were starting to create their own points from turnovers and driving to the basket.
Leading that charge was Franklin Martinez, the 5-foot-11 senior guard, who just last year wasn’t seeing the floor for the Lancers. There he was, in arguably the biggest quarter of his high school career, and he had the ball in his hands.
When all was said and done, he had 21 points, including a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line, which all came in the final quarter.
“We wish he would do that consistently throughout the game,” said Lawrence coach Paul Neal. “We’re trying to get him to have the ball in his hands. He’s one of our better scorers. He can make things happen. He gets to the basket, he an shoot it, but sometimes I think he’s almost too unselfish. We want him to be more aggressive.”
With under a minute to go and his team down 47-46, Lawrence inbounded the ball looking to get the ball to the basket, but again, Martinez found himself with the ball in his hands. Instead of opting for the safe shot close to the basket, he popped a 3-pointer. In a fitting end to the fourth quarter, it went in, putting the Lancers up by 2 with seconds to go.
“The defender was backing off, so I just thought about shooting it,” said Martinez. “Coach is always telling me to shoot, so I just took the opportunity there.”
After a back-and-forth exchange, North Andover’s Zach Karalis stole the ball and headed back the other way. However, after he walked the ball over halfcourt, Yadoris Arias picked his pocket and found himself all alone in transition. Instead of taking it himself, he selflessly gave it up to teammate Luis Torres, who put a cap on the game with a basket, giving Lawrence the 52-47 victory.
Martinez breaks out: The game was a sort of coming out party for Martinez. One year ago, he wasn’t the team’s 6th man, 7th man, or even 12th man. In his words, he was “No man.”
“I didn’t see the court (last year), I just learned,” he said. “The coaches helped me, and the team from last year helped me a lot.”
There he was, ending the game as the leading scorer to send his team to the finals of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament.
“In the first half I was nervous,” he said. “I wasn’t used to the big game feeling. In the second half, I was just zoned out. After the first couple of free throws, I was just zoned out. I didn’t hear any of the noise or anybody. I was just in the game and worked hard.”
Fervent crowd: One of the obvious advantages of hosting a holiday tournament like the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament is the ability to play on one's home court. If you are lucky enough to play in all three rounds of the tournament, the sixth man is on your side. The overwhelming crowd was very much a contributing factor in Lawrence’s (4-0) comeback victory, and will be again when it plays Friday.
“Just having a lot of support like that helps out,” said Ramirez. “It gets us amped. Things like hearing your name gives you pride. It makes you want to push until the end.”
Neal deferential: In the moments after the game, Neal was deflecting any of the credit from himself to his team. He credited players like Roberto Speing, who tallied 16 rebounds in the game, for doing the things a team needs to do to stay in a game.
“I told the guys I don’t think it has anything to do with coaching,” he said. “I think it had to do with a group of guys who decided they weren’t going to lose. With some of the plays they made and the things they did, they just started creating opportunities for themselves.
"They started making shots, but I think more importantly, in the second half they didn’t get much easy. They played hard. With the stuff they were giving away early in the game, they just decided to step up and started to play and with how young this team is, to have them step up and play like that, it’s a good win.”
Easing off: Early in the game, specifically in the first quarter, Lawrence was full-court pressing North Andover (3-1) and the Scarlet Knights were breaking it with ease. They were consistently getting players behind the defense and when that wasn’t working, they were passing the ball well enough to get points underneath the basket.
That forced Neal to push back the press in order to save the game from getting too out of hand. Karalis was the biggest benefactor, finishing with 13 points, while teammate Mike Moroney tallied 16 rebounds.
“I think inexperience was the biggest thing with the press,” said Neal. “We’ve had to slow down a little bit because most of the guys haven’t learned the press before and the press takes a lot of time, so we’ve scaled back on it. Last year, with the team we had, we would have been fully into the press because the guys knew it.
"We have no one on this team that knows it so we have to slowly build it. It took a little bit in the first half and kids got down about it so we had to get out of it. If you give up a layup, it kinds of break their spirit. It’s kind of like if something good happens you can stay in it, but if it doesn’t, you have to back off based on the inexperience of the team we’ve got.”