ROCKPORT — The last time the Rockport and Ipswich boys hoop teams faced off earlier this season, the Vikings picked up a narrow three-point road win in a back-and-forth affair.
Somehow Thursday night’s rematch between the two Cape Ann League foes was even more exhilarating.
After trading leads throughout the night, Ipswich came out firing in the fourth quarter to seize a six point advantage. But host Rockport refused to go away, hitting a number of big shots down the stretch to close the gap. Then, with just under a minute to go, Josiah Whitley splashed home his sixth 3-pointer of the evening to put Rockport in front for good.
Ipswich had a chance to win or tie it at the free throw line in the final seconds, but it wasn’t meant to be as Rockport survived a shootout thriller, 75-74.
“What a (heck) of a basketball game to be a part of, couldn’t ask for anything more than that,” said Rockport coach Phil Whitley, his team now 12-6. “Scoring in the 70s, I don’t know what both teams shot (percentage wise) but we shot the ball really well; just an incredible effort.”
Led by junior sharpshooter Nick Deleon (26 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists), Ipswich came out in the fourth quarter and turned a four point deficit into a swift six point lead. Deleon canned consecutive triples (he hit four from deep on the night) and got another layup to drop off a nice feed from Max Chesley for a 67-61 lead to force a Rockport timeout.
But as they did all night, Rockport responded. Josh Silva cashed a corner triple, Chase Wheat got to the rim and Whitley knocked down a mid range pull-up from the top of the key. Ed Merz, who had himself a third quarter to remember — we’ll get to that later — then hit a 3-ball of his own to knot things up at 72-all with under two minutes to play.
A defensive stop then led to the eventual game-winner, as Whitley came off a pick-and-pop with Merz and swished a trifecta from the middle. At that point there was just under a minute to play and Rockport had earned a 75-72 lead.
“I wanted to get Josiah the ball up high so he could either get downhill or get a shot and he got the shot,” said coach Whitley. “I mean he was hot tonight; he made a billion.”
Ipswich had two chances at the free throw line in the final minute to slice into the deficit and give themselves a chance to win, but they went 2-for-5 at the stripe and that was all she wrote. The latter chance came from Chesley, who had himself a phenomenal night; he made the first of three after being fouled on a triple, missed the second, and saw his third attempt spill in and out.
“I think the guys just played their hearts out tonight,” said Ipswich coach Alan LaRoche. “They played really good basketball and a couple of free throws doesn’t define that game tonight. I’m really proud of Max (Chesley) for stepping to the line and being there in that situation because we wouldn’t have been there without him.”
LaRoche isn’t wrong; Chesley was terrific all evening. In the first half in particular, he and Whitley traded triples with regularity as both teams looked to gain an edge.
Chesley hit four threes in that opening half en route to 14 of his 24 points while Whitley did the same on his way to a 15-point first half as the teams went into the locker room dead even at 37-37. Whitley finished with 25 points in total, adding six rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals.
The third quarter belonged to Merz, however. The shifty guard erupted for 16 points in those eight minutes, knocking down four threes in that stanza alone. He came up big in crunch time, too, ultimately finishing with a game-high 28 points and four dimes.
“It’s funny, Ed will get going in spurts like that where it’s hard to stop him, just like on the soccer field,” said Whitley. “That really boosted us and it gives the other guys a little breather.”
Rockport went up by as many as eight points in the first half, while Ipswich snared as big as the six point lead late in action. It was a heartbreaker for the Tigers, who played a tremendous game in a hostile environment on Rockport’s Senior Night.
“It’s a tough loss, tough loss any way you put it,” said LaRoche. “You don’t dive into too much about the game (in the locker room after), you just say ‘I understand how you guys feel, it’s OK to feel the way you feel right now’. They were obviously pretty beat up in the locker room so not really much to say in the moment but we’ll talk a little bit more later on.”
Freshman Rex Satter was another standout for Ipswich, finishing with a game-high 10 assists to go with seven rebounds and five points. Satter set the table beautifully all evening and really controlled the pace; his poise for a first-year varsity player is special.
On the other end, Rockport got key contributions from everyone that stepped on the floor. Silva hit a pair of big triples en route to 10 points, Chase Wheat (6 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal) was everywhere defensively, as was Brooks Slingluff (6 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals), and both Whitley and Merz certainly brought their A-game.
“This group has just taken Rockport basketball to another level and I tell them that every day,” said coach Whitley. “They don’t believe me but I’ve been in the trenches for 10 years living it. Just a special group of kids, amazing.”
Both teams shot the lights out, with Rockport drilling a whopping 15 triples and Ipswich knocking down 10 from distance.
Rockport 75, Ipswich 74
at Rockport High School
Ipswich (7-9) 16 22 20 16 74
Rockport (12-6) 19 18 24 14 75
Ipswich — Rex Satter 2-0-5, Gabe Sykes 2-2-6, Nick Deleon 10-2-26, Max Chesley 9-1-24, Ajay King 1-0-2, James Norris 5-1-11. Totals: 29-6-73
Rockport — Brooks Slingluff 2-1-6, Ed Merz 10-2-28, Josh Silva 3-2-10, Josiah Whitley 9-1-25, Chase Wheat 3-0-6. Totals: 27-6-75
3-Pointers: I — Chesley 5, Deleon 4, Satter; R — Whitley 6, Merz 6, Silva 2, Slingluff.