Rockets stun top-seeded Quabbin
By Kolby Alicea-Lamoureux
Citizen Chronicle Sports Writer
WORCESTER — After dropping four of their last six games, the Auburn Rockets earned a district berth and ousted the top seed of the Clark Tournament on Monday night.
The eighth-seeded Rockets beat the Quabbin Panthers by a score of 57-52 at the Kneller Athletic Center in a large school quarterfinals match-up that enabled Auburn to clinch a playoff spot. Though Auburn managed to hold a lead at the end of all four periods, the outcome was never a given.
The game started off quietly as it took both teams a few minutes to get started. Scoring was slow in the first several minutes of the game before Auburn’s Craigon Confer hit a deep three in the face of a Quabbin defender to get the Rockets started. The Panthers wound up trailing, 13-10, after the first period.
During the second period, Quabbin started to pull away to a nice three-point lead with some help off of the bench. Key off the bench was Croix Jenkins, who protected the paint well until Auburn’s Matty Backlin put some interior work in and sent the Rockets into the half with a slim 25-24 lead. Heading into the locker rooms, both teams were in the major foul trouble with a combined 16 fouls.
Both teams battled during the start of the second half, playing very carefully to stay out of the foul troubles that haunted them from the first half. With 5:37 left in the third period, Auburn’s Coleman Picard pulled up and hit a long two-point jump shot and was fouled. He went on to hit his free throws, making it a three-point play and putting the Rockets back up by one. With 1:37 remaining in the third period, Quabbin took the lead with a three-pointer. However, the Panthers defense wasn’t enough to stop Picard, who had a total of eight points in the third to keep Auburn up, 39-37.
With it being a tight two-point game heading into the fourth and final period, both teams stepped up and combined they scored more in the final eight minutes than any other single period, putting up a combined 33 points. Quabbin’s Brodie Coughlin scored more than half of his teams points in the fourth, scoring nine points. Coughlin’s effort still wasn’t enough to stop Auburn’s high pace on offense as their ball movement was key, having every starter score in the fourth period. After a few of Quabbin’s intentional fouls in the final minutes, the clock ticked down and the deficit grew. Eight of the final 11 points of the game were scored from the free throw line, largely benefitting Auburn.
With the loss, the Panthers fall to 14-6 and have been eliminated from the annual invitational tournament. With the win, Auburn improves to 10-10, clinches a district berth, and advances to the large school Clark Tournament semifinals. The Rockets will take on the Shepherd Hill Rams on Thursday at 7:45 p.m. at the Kneller Athletic Center.