BY KYLE DaLUZ
FOR THE SUN CHRONICLE
TAUNTON – Norton High boys’ basketball head coach Marc Liberatore had seen it before, and now he was about to witness it once again.
Old Rochester Regional senior Jordan Menard was left alone in the corner after Norton’s Jason O’Neil drove through the lane and banked a shot off glass to cut into the Bulldog lead, pulling the Lancers to within four points with two minutes remaining in regulation.
Noah Fernandes dribbled right through the Lancer defense and kicked out to Menard who lined up a three that hit nothing but net, extending the Bulldog lead to seven with 1:47 to play – the dagger in the heart of the Lancers that all but ended their season Saturday night at Taunton in the MIAA Division-3 South Sectional tournament, as Norton fell to Old Rochester 64-53.
Liberatore was in attendance for the second meeting between South Coast Conference members Old Rochester and Wareham, where Menard hit a three-point field goal in the waning minutes to propel the Bulldogs to victory. It was a bad case of déjà vu for Liberatore.
“You have to tip your hat off to him,” said Liberatore. “He’s a senior captain for them and he hits the biggest shot of the game. We talked about him the past couple days. That’s what he does.”
“I saw he had a little daylight,” said Old Rochester Regional coach Steve Carvalho. “He had a good look and plenty of separation.”
“Noah got to the basket and they helped on him,” said Menard. “He kicked it out, I was open and I let it fly.”
Trailing 31-28 at halftime, senior captain Bret Murphy continued his hot shooting for the Lancers in the third quarter. Murphy connected on four three-point field goals in his second consecutive tournament game and hit back-to-back threes in the third quarter to pull Norton ahead for the first time since the first quarter.
“He doesn’t need much room,” said Liberatore.” When he’s coming off the screen he’s always looking to shoot.”
The Bulldogs flexed their muscles at the end of the third quarter. Old Rochester answered the two Murphy three pointers with an 8-0 run to close out the quarter, and never trailed for the remainder of the contest. Old Rochester’s Fernandes scored 22 points and added four rebounds and assists to pace play for the Bulldogs.
“We were playing a 3-2 zone to try and keep his penetration down,” said Liberatore. “In the first quarter he got us in foul trouble because he was splitting the zone. Then he finished shots in the second, third and fourth quarters. He played good defense too. He really gave our guards trouble with his hands, with his ability to get his hands on us when they were dribbling the ball. He did it on both ends and he’s going to be a great player.”
“That was probably the turning point in the game,” said Carvalho of his team’s late third quarter run. “Noah (Fernandes) and Jordan (Menard) wreak havoc in the back court and that’s been their M.O.”
Norton trailed by five heading into the final quarter, and were outscored by six points in the fourth. Bulldog center Matt Valles all but sealed their trip to the Division-3 state semifinals at TD Garden with an “and-1” with 1:07 to play to put Old Rochester up 10.
“I think they (Old Rochester) proved they were the best team,” said Liberatore. “We hung with them for three and a half quarters as hard as we could. They’re a little bit deeper than us and that showed up in the fourth quarter.”
Senior Jason O’Neil tallied 16 points for the Lancers, with continued penetration through the Old Rochester defense, and grabbed seven defensive rebounds.
“(He) took the ball hard to the basket,” said Liberatore. “A couple times it rolled out on him and he’s our best penetrator and did it on both ends with defensive rebounds too.”
The senior leadership of O’Neil, Murphy and Jenkins carried Norton to the sectional finals for the first time since 1988, a place no one expected them to be when they were 6-4 at the midway point of their season.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” said Liberatore. “For a six-seed to get here, not a lot of people thought we would be here.”
Murphy 6 3-3 19, O’Neil 7 2-4 16, Jenkins 3 5-7 11, Caramanica 1 0-0 2, Coffey 1 0-0 2, Petersen 1 1-2 3, Woodworth 0 0-0 0, O’Malley 0 0-0 0, Troiano 0 0-0 0, totals 19 11-16 53
Fernandes 7 8-9 22, E. Santos 2 2-4 6, Valles 4 3-3 11, W. Santos 4 4-5 12, Gamache 0 0-0 0, Menard 3 1-2 9, Beatty 1 2-2 4, Noonan 0 0-0 0, totals 21 20-25 64
Norton – 15 13 12 13 – 53
ORR - 18 13 14 19 – 64
3-point field goals – Norton 4 (Murphy 4), ORR 2 (Menard 2); Rebounds – Norton 30 (Jenkins 8), ORR 22 (Menard 7); Assists – Norton 10 (Jenkins 3), ORR 8 (Fernandes 4); Fouls – Norton 18 (Murphy, Jenkins, Coffey 4), ORR 15 (Menard 4)