Boys’ basketball: Not quite revenge, but Pembroke holds off Pelham in 55-54 nailbiter

Pembroke senior Joe Fitzgerald drives to the basket during the Spartans’ Capital Classic third-place game against John Stark on Dec. 29.

Pembroke senior Joe Fitzgerald drives to the basket during the Spartans’ Capital Classic third-place game against John Stark on Dec. 29. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Pembroke’s Joe Fitzgerald drives past a Pelham defender towards the basket on Friday at Pembroke Academy. Fitzgerald scored a game-high 23 points to lead the Spartans over the Pythons, 55-54, in a rematch of last season’s Division II championship game.

Pembroke’s Joe Fitzgerald drives past a Pelham defender towards the basket on Friday at Pembroke Academy. Fitzgerald scored a game-high 23 points to lead the Spartans over the Pythons, 55-54, in a rematch of last season’s Division II championship game. JOHN SCOTT SHERBURNE / Ball603.com

Pembroke’s Javien Sinclair (left) and Devin Riel (2) guard Pelham’s Zach James during a game at Pembroke Academy on Friday, a rematch of last season’s Division II championship. James led Pelham with 21 points, but the Spartans held him scoreless in the fourth quarter as Pembroke avenged last year’s loss with a 55-54 victory.

Pembroke’s Javien Sinclair (left) and Devin Riel (2) guard Pelham’s Zach James during a game at Pembroke Academy on Friday, a rematch of last season’s Division II championship. James led Pelham with 21 points, but the Spartans held him scoreless in the fourth quarter as Pembroke avenged last year’s loss with a 55-54 victory. JOHN SCOTT SHERBURNE / Ball603.com

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 01-05-2024 11:13 PM

Modified: 01-06-2024 9:40 AM


PEMBROKE – Yes, Pelham beat Pembroke twice last season, including 57-54 in the Division II championship game. But Friday wasn’t exactly a ‘revenge’ game. After all, the Spartans graduated nine seniors off their team, so most of the current players didn’t even play in that title contest. And, a win in the fourth game of the season certainly doesn’t erase the sour taste of a championship game loss. 

Nonetheless, the upstart Spartans – who trailed at the end of each of the first three quarters, including 44-40 heading into the fourth – outscored the Pythons 15-10 in the final eight minutes to eke out a 55-54 win, remaining unbeaten so far this season. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen our boys so excited,” head coach Mike Donnell said. “They knew it was going to be a tough victory. You know one team was going home tonight not undefeated anymore, and now there’s just two undefeated teams standing, and that’s us and Manchester West.”

Senior Joe Fitzgerald led the Spartans (4-0) with 23 points, while junior Evan Berkeley added 11 points. But it was sophomore Zach Bemis, Donnell said, who despite only scoring two points on 1-of-7 shooting and missing two free throws, helped shift the tone of the game off the bench.

“He had a steal, he picked up two charges in the game, one of them in the fourth quarter. Just such an asset tonight, coming into a big spot and he just helped us out tremendously,” Donnell said.

On the other side, Pelham’s Zach James led the visitors with 21 points, but Pembroke held him scoreless in the fourth quarter. The Pythons (4-1) entered Friday averaging 69 points per game; the Spartans held them 15 points below their average.

The performance certainly serves as a boon to a team with a number of new faces playing significant minutes this season. Although the few returners — like Fitzgerald and Berkeley — already know what it takes to win and the younger players who played on the JV team last year dominated to a 16-1 record, winning a game like Friday’s certainly provides a major confidence boost, particularly if these two teams square off again in the playoffs.

Asked what stood out to him most from the victory, Donnell repeated an ingredient that’s become all-too-common in Pembroke’s recipe for success since the start of last season.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

“I feel like a broken record: chemistry,” he said. “The boys just played so well together. ... Just the relentlessness of these guys not quitting. They just kept coming back and coming back and coming back. There looked like there were no nerves on them. There were a lot on my end, but our guys just seemed very comfortable and very relaxed and knew what they needed to do. Fortunately this time, we came out on top.”