NORTH ANDOVER — For the first time in three years, there will be a new Division 1 boys’ basketball champion.
Behind a combined 41 points from senior Juan Felix Rodriguez and junior Luis Reynoso, Lawrence High held on to dethrone two-time defending state champion Cambridge Rindge & Latin, 68-65, in a Division 1 North semifinal on Tuesday.
The Lancers (21-2) will play top-seeded Everett for the sectional crown Saturday night at Tsongas Center in Lowell.
“Our student athletes are survivors,” said Lawrence coach Raymond Nunez.
“I use that as an analogy because in their lives they face a lot of struggles and adversity and they may be at a tipping point, and what are you going to do? Are you going to go head and fold, or are you going to continue fighting? And that is what they did. Fighting through the mistakes, and fighting through the adversity they faced in the game.”
Late in the game, survive is exactly what Lawrence did.
Cambridge (20-3) faced an uphill battle trailing by 10, 63-53, with just under three minutes remaining. But a quick 8-2 run, capped by a steal (inbound pass) and score (layup) by junior Jhkyos Nealcut the deficit to four, 65-61, wit 1:25 left to play.
The 6-foot-5 Reynoso took the next possession for Lawrence into his own hands – going isolation right at the defense. His basket in the paint stretched back to six. Two free throws from Cambridge junior God West made it 67-63 with 47 seconds on the clock.
A couple turnovers and missed opportunities from both teams gave Cambridge the chance to tie late. As West came across half court he was double-teamed, and his desperation pass to senior Aidan Keefer (18 points) near the 3-point line was just out of his reach. Reynoso picked the loose ball up, and as the final horn sounded, he tossed the ball into the rafters in the North Andover gymnasium.
“What can I say? It is cool having got this far,” said Rodriguez. “We are going to keep working and moving forward.”
With what seemed like the whole city of Lawrence packed into the gym, Lawrence fed off the energy and surged to a six-point cushion, 34-28, at half. Rodriguez scored 14 of his 21 points in the first two quarters, and junior Chris Ruiz (17 points) ignited some important offense off the bench.
The Falcons were led by Keefer along with senior Jonathan Cenescar (11 points, nine rebounds) and sophomore Khai Smith (11 points, 10 rebounds).Karl Capen can be reached at email@example.com.