Indian boys basketball edged in opener

For an opening night game, Friday’s battle between the Billerica High boys basketball team and visiting Haverhill certainly had some middle-of-the-season intensity. In a contest that had several significant momentum swings, the Hillies eventually pulled away in the final moments and topped the Indians, 68-60. Billerica trailed 8-2 early before rallying to take a 9-8 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 26-21 lead into halftime. The second half featured seven lead changes and was tied at 53 with 3:25 remaining before Haverhill used an 11-4 spurt to take command down the stretch. Junior center Jeremy Valdez dominated the closing moments for the Hillies. The 6-foot-5 big man hit two foul shots to break the tie and put HHS in front for good. An offensive rebound and put-back by Valdez led to a three-point play and a 58-53 lead for the visitors before a steal by Indian junior Alex Sainlaire resulted in two free throws by Sainlaire with 1:35 left. Sainlaire and Haverhill’s Alex Fuller then traded baskets before a pivotal play by Hillie sophomore Alejandro Delgado. After Delgado went to the foul line and seemingly missed both shots, Delgado grabbed the rebound of his second miss and scored to make it 62-57 with just 55 seconds to play. BMHS missed its next shot and was forced to foul the rest of the way. Haverhill went 4 for 6 in the final minute from the stripe and Valdez tracked down one of the misses and scored with the rebound. Valdez ended up with a game-high 25 points for Haverhill, Delgado added 16 points and Fuller scored nine. Three Indians reached double figures in points with Sainlaire’s 17 leading the way. Sophomore Brady Martin contributed 16, sophomore Zackary Tomassetti chipped in with 11 and junior Connor Gibson scored eight. After Haverhill took its early lead, Martin led the Indians back. The tenacious guard had two steals, went to the floor to force a jump ball and forced a traveling violation in the first quarter alone. Martin hit six foul shots for Billerica’s first six points before a 3-pointer by senior Steven Lankowski gave the Indians their first lead, 9-8. Two Sainlaire foul shots and a steal and layup by junior Elijah Mulindwa pushed Billerica’s lead to five (13-8) and an eight-point run later in the quarter pushed Billerica’s advantage to double figures, 21-11. A 3-pointer by Tomassetti started the surge before a 3-point play by Martin set up by Sainlaire’s nice feed. A steal by Martin finished the run. A Gibson 3-pointer and Sainlaire’s inside hoop kept the Indians in front at the break. Haverhill’s offense started clicking in the second half as the Hillies scored 47 points in the final 16 minutes. A 3-pointer by Gibson gave Billerica a 29-23 lead in the opening stages of the third quarter, but Haverhill used an 10-2 run to retake the lead. Two Tomassetti hoops , the second resulting from an excellent fast-break pass by senior Matthew Barros, put the Indians in front 35-33 before Haverhill ended the stanza with a 9-3 run to lead by four (42-38) heading into the fourth. Haverhill actually took a 45-40 lead early in the final quarter, but Sainlaire swished a big 3-pointer and then assisted another three from Mulindwa for a 46-45 BMHS lead. The teams then traded small spurts to set up the exciting finish. An 8-0 run by Haverhill was followed by five straight Indians points, a three-point play by Sainlaire and a layup by Gibson on a play that started with a steal by Tomassetti.