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Guardian big rally falls shy; St. B's stays strong despite pressure.

Byline: Shaun Suhoski

FITCHBURG -- A bend-but-don't-break attitude during a frenetic fourth quarter helped St. Bernard's stave off a comeback by second-ranked St. Peter-Marian en route to a 79-67 victory Friday night at the Activity Center.

Although they jumped out to a convincing 39-24 lead at the break and took an 18-point lead midway through the third quarter on Garrett Stephenson's put-back, the Bernardians had to rely on teamwork and guile to hold back a spirited comeback by the Guardians.

"They're a great team,'' said St. Bernard's coach Mark Pierce, whose team improved to 6-4 and 2-2 in Central Mass. Conference play.

"We came out after the half and knew they were going to make a run. They got hot hitting the 3s in the third quarter. But we were able to rebound the ball enough, and the biggest thing was we didn't turn the ball over in bunches like the first time we played them.''

St. Peter-Marian clawed its way back with superior athleticism, aggressive rebounding and scintillating shooting from Jonathan Crimmin (16 points) and Jamal Smith (10 points), who scored all of their points in the second half.

The duo spurred the visitors to close within three points, 69-66, with three minutes remaining after the Guardians' trap forced a backcourt turnover that led to a Crimmin 3-pointer.

But high scorer Christian LaRoche (17 points) immediately answered with one of his five 3-pointers to maintain breathing room. And Bernardians point guard John Conry (14 points) was up to the task down the stretch, impossibly squeezing through double-teams or finding the open man to break the trap.

"We bent a tiny bit, but Johnny Conry played tough minutes,'' Pierce said. "They tried to double and triple the ball out of his hands all night and really raise the pressure, but we handled it enough and hit key shots.''

Late in the game, Sean Maki (12 points) helped calm the home fans with back-to-back hoops, including a nice drive and a long 3-pointer that increased the margin to 77-67 with less than two minutes remaining.

"I couldn't even tell you who hit big shots tonight because I think everybody hit big shots,'' Pierce said.

The Guardians received balanced scoring from their talented lineup, including 11 points from Makai Ashton-Langford and nine each from Tom Annan and Connor Brown.

"We have no excuses,'' Guardians coach Marcus Watson said.

"St. Bernard's beat us, they whipped our tails. They shot the ball well and came out well-prepared by their coach.

"They really wanted it in the first half. They played with more urgency and hunger. We're a very talented group but sometimes we rely just on talent when we have these kinds of games.''

The Guardians (4-4, 2-2) face Holy Name at 4 p.m. today, while St. Bernard's faces powerhouse Cardinal Spellman in a noon tipoff on Sunday.

Contact Shaun Suhoski

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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Suhoski, Shaun
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 18, 2014
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