BY KYLE DaLUZ
FOR THE SUN CHRONICLE
BRIDGEWATER – When the Norton Lancers boys’ basketball team was 6-4 midway through their season, no one envisioned them clinching a berth to the MIAA Division-3 South sectional final, but Marc Liberatore’s bunch has found a way as they defeated Norwell High Wednesday night in the sectional semifinal, 38-32.
Trailing 11-10 at halftime, senior guard Bret Murphy gave the Lancers the offensive spark they desperately needed in the third quarter. Murphy scored 13 of his team’s 15 points in the third, hitting four three-point field goals to give the Lancers an 11-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“His shot is so quick,” said Norton High coach Marc Liberatore of Murphy’s third quarter efforts. “Team’s think they have him covered then the shot is off and out of his hands.”
The Lancers struggled to get much offense going in the first half, scoring just 10 points, including a mere two in the second quarter.
“In the first half I thought most of our shots were contested,” said Liberatore. “We had some unforced turnovers and they (Norwell) got too many offensive rebounds in the first half.”
The Norton defense held Norwell to just three points in the third quarter, and looked like they had a strangle-hold on the lead in such a low scoring affair.
Then the Clippers made a run. Trailing 28-19 with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, number 2-seeded Norwell went on a 10-2 run, and cut the lead to just one after Joey Volpe stole the ball and hit a three-pointer with 1:14 remaining.
“They made some big shots, but we’ve matured since the beginning of the season,” said Liberatore. “Teams would come back on us and we might hang our heads a little, but now when teams make a run like that, we fight through that and then we made the run to end the game. That’s just maturity and improvement.”
With 45 seconds to play, the Lancers extended their lead off a baseline jumper from Paul Caramanica, who scored six of his 12 points in the final quarter.
Caramanica hit two free throws with 25 seconds remaining to push the lead up to five, but Stephen Kulka hit a three on the other end to make it a two-point game.
Norton called on Jason O’Neil (2-2 FT in fourth) and Brandon Jenkins (five rebounds in fourth) to clinch the game for the Lancers. Murphy came up with a steal with just under seven seconds to play, and hit both of his free-throws to clinch the finals bid.
Norton scored 23 points in the second half, more than doubling their total from the first. The Lancers ended the game on an 8-3 run over the final 45 seconds.
“We wanted to do a better job of screening the zone,” said Liberatore of his second half game-plan. “In the second half it was more screening the zone, throw a chest pass and get the ball to our shooters.”
Get it to the shooters they did. Murphy led the Lancers with 15 points, while Caramanica had 12.
“I only do as well as my teammates do.” said Murphy of his hot shooting in the second half. “If they draw attention they get me open. It’s all about them.”
No. 6-seeded Norton will now advance to the MIAA Division-3 South sectional final, where they will play the Old Rochester Bulldogs on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Taunton High.
Murphy 4 3-4 15, O’Neil 2 5-6 9, Jenkins 0 0-0 0, Caramanica 5 2-2 12, Coffey 1 0-0 2, totals 12 10-12 38.
Dwyer 2 0-2 4, Larason 1 0-0 3, Kulka 3 0-0 8, Hilsinger 0 0-0 0, Volpe 4 0-0 9, Smith 1 0-0 2, Doherty 2 0-0 6, totals 13 0-2 32.
Norton 8 2 15 8 – 38
Norwell 7 4 3 18 – 32
3-point goals – Norton 4 (Murphy 4), Norwell 6 (Kulka 2, Doherty 2, Larason, Volpe)