Despite the disappointment of not making the state tournament, Nashoba Regional rebounded with a 73-42 victory against Clinton.
Bennett MacGregor (14 points), Tyler Seatter (13), Tyler Hunt (11) and John McNulty (10) lifted the Chieftains (9-10) on Senior Night.
However, the disappointment remains.
Nashoba Regional, a year removed from playing for the Division 2 state championship, found itself fighting for its basketball playoff life Feb. 14 against visiting Maynard.
The Chieftains needed a win for a playoff berth but could not overcome a huge early deficit and, despite a furious rally in the fourth quarter, wound up on the wrong side of the 58-52 final.
For Maynard, which had long ago claimed its spot in the Division 4 playoffs, the nonconference game was put on the schedule as a toughening agent.
The Tigers won’t find it any tougher than the Chieftains (9-10) made it down the stretch of a game that was saved by several Tommy Smith 3-point baskets.
“We weren’t running plays for him,” Maynard coach Paul Howes said. “He was just making plays.”
And Maynard (17-4), the defending Division 4 state champions, needed every one.
The Tigers, who owned a 20-point lead in the third quarter, saw their sliced to three points twice in the fourth quarter, the last time on two free throws from Nashoba’s Justin Peirce with two minutes to play.
It was then Smith hit the third of his long-range bombs, this coming from the deep corner and Nashoba could move no closer than four points the rest of the way.
Smith finished with 18 points, while teammate Corey Olivier led with a game-high 20.
Maynard center Chris Bastien added 13 points, but his most important contributions came on defense as a shot-blocking machine.
“We were committed defensively,” Howes said. “That led to great things on offense.”
Maynard blew out to a 19-3 lead after one quarter, and 30-14 at the half.
Nashoba made the needed adjustments in strategy as well as commitment.
“We played hard and never quit,” Nashoba coach Danny Ortiz said. “I was proud of our effort.”
The loss meant Nashoba would miss the tournament for the first time since 2013. The last three years saw the Chieftains advance to at least the division semifinals.
Last season, Nashoba made it all the way to the state championship game.
It was a different roster for 2018, one depleted by transfer and early injury.
For example, Peirce, who recently scored his 1,000th career point, missed the first three games with an injury and Nashoba lost all three. The Chieftains celebrated Peirce’s return with three consecutive victories.
However, Nashoba could not capture consistency throughout the season.
Following a frustrating first half, created by Maynard’s defense, Peirce scored 15 points. Sophomore Jack Richard buried four 3-point baskets in the second half to lead the Nashoba comeback bid and finished with 16 points.
“We can use this as a learning experience,” Ortiz said, acknowledging the disappointment of his seniors. “I’m proud of the my team.”
Howes exhaled a breath of relief at the final buzzer. He also wondered how his team would react after losing by 20 at Cathedral a few days earlier.
“We took one on the chin,” Howes said. “How were we going to handle getting punched in the nose?”
Very well, apparently.
With Olivier leading the attack, Maynard, which hosts Division 2 Marlborough on Friday and begins the Clark Tournament on Sunday, broke out to an 11-0 lead before Nashoba finally scored with less than four minutes to play in the first quarter.