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A Fired-Up Crowd, and a Tigers Victory, Too

Newport — The Stevens-Newport rivalry will never be what it was many years ago, but that would be a hard sell last, night as approximately 500 folks jammed every nook and cranny of Wheeler Gym to see the Tigers grind out a 53-49 win over the Cardinals in battle of unbeaten New Hampshire Division III boys basketball teams.

“I’ve seen some big crowds in here, but nothing like tonight,” Newport coach Steve Lavolpicelo said. “There were people sitting on the floor and packed into the corners. We’ve had some nice crowds for Sunapee and other Stevens games, but tonight was the biggest crowd.”

Stevens came into the game in fourth place at 4-0, with Newport one spot behind at 3-0. An hour before the varsity game, the place was packed. And nobody left, as the contest was not decided until the final 90 seconds.

“The atmosphere was great,” Stevens coach Scott MacNamee said.

“It was awesome, like Boston Garden,” added Lavolpicelo, who said that he had to make so many coaching decisions that “the game went by fast. It was a blur.”

There were highs and lows for both teams, and at times the execution was erratic. With 2:26 to go, the Newport lead was 49-47. At this point, the Tigers tried to run the clock down, forcing Stevens to foul. That would have worked in the Tigers’ favor, except they missed seven free throws in the period.

The Tigers did get the lead to four on a move by Spencer Coronis down the middle, but Ryan Tangway answered for the Cardinals with 1:11 to go to make it 51-49.

For the next 50 seconds or so, the noise in the gym was deafening as each team took a trip down the floor and came up empty. Stevens was eventually forced to foul and the Tigers put the game away with 14 seconds left when Zach Whalen got a put-back hoop off a missed free throw to close out the night.

“There were times the players couldn’t hear me and the refs couldn’t hear me,” Lavolpicelo said. “Still, it was awesome.”

Newport took a 10-point lead at the half when Derek Pare, hit three consecutive 3-pointers in the last 2:49 of the second quarter — his only baskets of the night — to put Newport up 33-23.

“He’s fearless,” Lavolpicelo said of Pare. “He can make the big shot.”

That 10-point lead looked awful big, particularly since Stevens sparkplug and point guard Billy Brooks picked up his fourth foul with 3:10 to go in the second quarter. Consequently at halftime, MacNamee had a decision to make. As it was, it turned out to be an easy one.

“There was no way we were going to come back without Billy in there,” MacNamee said. Brooks played most of the second, scored 11 points, 19 in the game, and never did foul out.

Looking at a 10-point deficit, the Cardinals clawed back to cut it to five after three periods, 42-37, and got it to one, 46-45 at the 3:15 mark, before the Tigers hung on for the win.

“It wasn’t pretty at times,” Lavolpicelo said, “but our defense never faltered.”

Neither team excelled from the foul line; Newport finished 11 for 25 and Stevens 3-for-11.

Sophomore Andrew Houde was the Tigers’ top scorer with 15 points.

Newport goes to Hinsdale on Monday and Stevens travels to Windsor on Tuesday.