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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The Westwood and Walpole High varsity basketball teams waited until the second-to-last day of 2016 to play what was arguably one of the best high school basketball games that this area has seen in quite some time, as the Wolverines (5-1, 3-1) took down the Rebels (2-3, 0-2) 59-58 on Friday night to win the Westwood Holiday Tournament in dramatic fashion.
Timmy “Buckets” Giovino led the Wolverines to a 70-52 victory over Foxboro in Westwood’s first-round game on Thursday night with 27 points. Meanwhile, Walpole’s Isaiah “Ike” Shephard (17 points) and Luke Esty (25 points) led the Rebels to a 78-71 victory over Hingham to meet up with Westwood in the final on Friday.
Giovino, Shephard, and Esty all continued their stellar play on Friday evening, with all three being the main sources of offense for their teams. Right off of the opening tip, Giovino found the ball in his hands and knocked down a three to give Westwood the early edge. The two St. Martin-coached teams battled throughout the remainder of the first half, with Westwood senior Nick Kennedy and Walpole senior Brett Von Klock fighting it out in the post for rebounds seemingly on every possession.
Westwood was able to jump out to an early 19-11 lead by causing turnovers with backcourt pressure on several Walpole inbound passes. However, after falling behind by eight, the Rebels turned to their two studs in Esty and Shephard to get them back into the game, and the duo came through by driving the lane and getting to the foul line as Esty (eight of ten from the stripe) and Shephard (six of nine) sunk some clutch free throws to cut it to a 25-23 game with two minutes remaining in the half.
After junior guard Trey Wilkes sunk a pair of free throws to give Walpole their first lead of the night at 29-28, Westwood’s Reed Wilson hit a two just before the half to give the Wolverines back the lead at 30-29 at the break.
The Rebels came out in the second half on fire from beyond the arc, as Shephard hit two straight three pointers along with one from Esty as part of a 10-2 run to give Walpole a 39-32 lead. The Wolverines responded through the slick shooting of Reed Wilson, who hit a three, a two, and added a free throw to cut the deficit to 44-41 at the end of three quarters.
The fourth quarter was about as tense as they come at any level of basketball, with both teams trading blows and snagging key rebounds. Clinging to a 46-45 lead with just under seven minutes to play, Trey Wilkes snagged a rebound and called timeout as he was falling to the floor. Shephard drilled his fourth three-pointer of the game on the ensuing possession to extend the Rebel lead to 49-45, but the Wolverines kept pressing and were able to match the Rebels point for point heading into the final minute of play. With 1:03 remaining and the Rebels still holding onto a 57-56 lead, Westwood junior Thomas Herbert snagged a rebound in his own end out of the arms of Walpole’s Jordan Washburn, giving the Wolverines the ball back with the chance to take the lead in the final minute of regulation.
Senior captain Aidan Fitzgibbon went to the free-throw line on the ensuing Westwood possession following the Herbert rebound with 27.4 seconds to play and missed the would-be tying free throw. Walpole’s James Randall snagged the rebound and attempted to make a clearing pass to Luke Esty, however, the ball was stolen by Giovino under the hoop and banked in while drawing a foul for a three-point play to give Westwood back the lead at 59-57 with 23.8 seconds to play.
The Rebels countered by getting the ball to Ike Shephard following a made free-throw by Giovino, but Shephard’s would-be go-ahead three-pointer with eight seconds left was no good. Walpole’s Jordan Washburn picked up the rebound of the missed Shephard three-pointer under the hoop while drawing a foul, and had the chance to tie the game at 59 at the free throw line with less than a second left to play. Washburn went one-for-two on his ensuing free throws, and Westwood was able to clear the ball successfully and hang on for the 59-58 victory, sending “The Den” into a frenzy.
Walpole head coach David St. Martin praised his group afterwards for fighting to the bitter end.
“If you came to the game tonight, you saw two teams play their hearts out,” said St. Martin. “Tough loss.”
For his 27-point performance against Foxboro and game-winning three-point play against the Rebels on Friday, Westwood’s Tim Giovino won the tournament MVP award. Walpole’s Luke Esty won tournament MVP runner-up.