Start fast, finish strong. That was a recipe for success for the Athol High School boys’ varsity basketball team Friday night in an 84-58 victory over Narragansett.
The Raiders wasted no time impressing the home crowd in scoring the game’s first 10 points and earning a 19-4 lead after a quarter of play. The Warriors battled back and the Raiders lead was just nine, 59-50, entering the fourth quarter. Athol responded with a 25-8 thumping of Narragansett over the final eight minutes.
“It’s a young group and we don’t know how to close games out yet so it was nice to see that,” said Athol head coach Jason Donovan. “Give Gansett credit, the fought their way back into it. We figured out how to reenergize ourselves and finish.”
Captains Zack Dodge and Erik Aikey – Athol’s only two seniors – led the assault, combining for 42 points. Dodge recorded a team-high 25 points and set the tone early with 12 first quarter points.
“We needed leadership right away and Zack has a lot of experience,” said Donovan. “It was his game to take charge. He’s a kid who needs to take charge and bring everyone along with him.”
Aikey racked up 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Raiders who took the first step in their 10-step plan towards a tournament bid. While Athol started strong, Narragansett quickly made a game of it to begin the second quarter. Led by Thomas McDonald, the Warriors began the second frame on a 15-4 run to cut the deficit to just four, 23-19, with 5:25 left in the half. A Nelson Leadbetter jumper halted the run and the Raiders were able to open their back up to 10, 36-26, at intermission.
The Raiders pushed the lead back out to 15, 50-35, midway through the third quarter, but Austin Myers led a Narragansett surge to tighten things back up to begin the fourth.
Aikey and Dodge scored the first six points of the final frame to help the Raiders gain some breathing room. Dylan Gray, Tyler Lajoie and Mark Brighenti also got into the act and the Raiders stretched their lead out to 20 with three minutes to play before coasting to the victory.
“We just kept going to the hoop and our big guys were active on the offensive glass,” said Donovan. “It’s a lot of points and I was happy with the way we went to the hoop strong. We just kept going at it.”
Lajoie tallied 14 points, six rebounds, three steals and an assist in the win. Leadbetter knocked down a number of big shots and finished with 11 points and two assists. Brighenti and Bryce Melanson added six points apiece. Brandon Wagner added three points while Dylan Gray tacked on two points, five assists and three steals. Athol allowed just 11 total points in the first and fourth quarters, but Donovan did not he was disappointed in the defensive effort during the second and third quarters. The Warriors scored 22 points in each of those frames.
The Raiders (1-0) host Turners Falls on Monday.