HUNTINGTON – The 2016-17 high school basketball season tipped off in dramatic fashion Thursday night in one of the most memorable boys hoops’ openers in recent memory.
Gateway Regional and Duggan Academy slugged it out in grand style in a clean, fun brand of basketball that will be hard pressed to be matched this season. Duggan Academy rallied past the Gateway Gators, 56-52.
“We moved the ball well, shared the ball, and played hard,” Gateway interim head coach Kevin McVeigh said. “I’m proud of how we played.”
It was a game of firsts as Duggan Academy won its first-ever basketball game in its inaugural outing. Gateway was playing its first game under McVeigh. Gators’ coach Mike O’Connell resigned in the offseason, citing personal reasons.
Gateway came out firing in the first quarter, building a double-digit lead behind a strong effort from Jake McKittrick. McKittrick (11 rebounds, 5 assists) scored 10 of his 16 points in the opening quarter as the Gators failed to wilt under heavy pressure from Duggan Academy’s defensive press.
McKittrick helped open the floor for his teammates. He paved the way for Shane Mastello (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Brett Turban (14 points, 12 rebounds), who flourished in the offense.
“We can usually bank on our 2-2-1 press, but they did a really good job at breaking it,” the Duggan Academy coach explained. “We had to go to a 2-3 zone and our transition did well to create shots.”
Duggan Academy’s Juan Hernandez made a 3-point shot to tie the game late in the first half. It was a sign of things to come for the magnet school from the city of Springfield.
Hernandez went on a barrage from beyond the arc, draining five 3-pointers to finish with a game-high 17 points. His fourth-quarter three with 6:27 remaining in regulation put Duggan Academy up by four, 47-43.
Gateway managed to tie the game 52-all on Mastello’s and-one with 1:06 left, but a two-pointer from Josh Figueroa (11 points) and two free throws from Jason Williams (15) iced the game for Duggan Academy, which overcame foul trouble to post the victory.
Gateway finished just 11-of-20 from the free throw line, missing some key front end of one-and-one situations.
“Foul shots killed us,” said McVeigh, also noting his team’s sluggish play late in the game. “It was an exciting game. This is a good building block.”
Gateway will next get to see how it stacks up against Westfield Technical Academy when it takes the court at the Tigers’ Box Out Cancer Challenge, beginning Dec. 15. Tip-off is at 5 p.m.