PAXTON, Mass – Saturday afternoon marked the final regular season game for Anna Maria against Emmanuel College, who they had beaten less than three weeks ago, and was also senior day where the school and coach Conrad recognized his five senior players. Coming in to the game the AMCATS were locked in to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference and were riding a six game winning streak. It would also prove to be a big individual day for one Anna Maria forward.
The AMCATS were led by senior guard Liam Pickett (Oxford, Mass) who scored a game and career high 26 points. Pickett shot eight-for-16 from the field and was eight-for-eight from the free throw line. He also pulled down three rebounds, dished out three assists, blocked two shots and recorded two steals in his stellar performance. Joining the 20-point club on the day was senior forward Kenneth Graham (West Haven, Conn) who scored 20 of his own while also grabbing eight rebounds, handing out five assists and stole a game high five balls from the opponent. As for the other seniors, guard John Birch (Woodbridge, Va) scored the first points of the game for the AMCATS on a three-pointer. He tallied seven total on the day will also pulling down five caroms. Guard Chris Contento (Marshfield, Mass) also scored seven points and kept his streak of good assist performances going with eight on the day. Senior guard Tanner Jakola (Leominster, Mass) scored eight points on the afternoon and handed out three assists.
Coming in to the day, the big story was sophomore forward Mike Rapoza (Charlton, Mass) who, coming in to today's game, had made his previous 21 shots in a row. He was three for his last three against Rivier University last Friday night on the road, then followed that up by tying the All-Time NCAA Division III record for most consecutive shots made in one game when he went 18-for-18 in a win this past Tuesday. On Saturday afternoon he continued his streak going five-for-five in the game extending the streak to 26 for his last 26 which breaks the All-Time Division III record for most consecutive shots made which stood at 24 going in to the game. The record across all divisions for most consecutive shots made currently stands at 30 which was set by Yale guard Brandon Sherrod in 2016. Mike finished the day with 14 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, good for his 22nd double-double of the season. Mike will look to continue his streak in the playoffs on Tuesday night against number one seed Albertus Magnus College.
For Emmanuel, sophomore guard Emmett Riddick (Middletown, Conn) led the Saints with 19 points on the day. Senior guard Colin Cordero (Bolton, Conn) scored 15 points of his own on six-of-nine shooting from the field. The saints had two other players in double-digits as freshman forward Marcus Fox (Danbury, Conn) and junior guard Isaiah Ruffen (Haverhill, Mass) each scored 10 in the game. Ruffen also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
With all of the story lines coming in to this game, the 'Cats riding a five-game winning streak, senior day for five seniors, Rapoza's scoring streak, Anna Maria knew they had business to take care of and essentially did just that. Birch would open the scoring for the AMCATS a minute in to take an early 3-2 lead. The beginning of this game went similarly to how the last game between these two teams went in Boston on the first of February, back and forth and physical. The teams would trade baskets with neither team able to pull away. Finally, the AMCATS would take the biggest lead of the game, six points, after a Rapoza layup. Mike would then extend his team's lead to eight with 11 minutes remaining in the first half. Though it looked for a few minutes like the Saints were going to erase the deficit as the momentum shifted for the next few minutes, the 'Cats were able to pick it back up and jump out to a 13-point, 27-14 lead with eight minutes left. Emmanuel were able to slow things down at that point but couldn't seem to keep the AMCATS from scoring. Though Anna Maria would lead by as many as 16 points, Emmanuel pulled back within 12 as the game went to half time, 43-31.
In the second half, Emmanuel would open the scoring and pull to within three points at the 15:36 mark of the period. At that point, the 'Cats got threes from Contento and Pickett and two made foul shots from freshman guard Ralph Grasso, Jr. (Marlborough, Mass) which saw AMC back out to a nine-point advantage. Emmanuel would get and stay close again until there were eight minutes left on the clock. That is when the AMCATS ran out to another 14-point lead and wouldn't look back. Scoring slowed for the final eight minutes as each team got their benches in to the game. With one-minute remaining, up 90-73, Anna Maria rotated out all of their seniors to get a round of applause from the crowd. Junior guard Joe Kwiatkowski (Hudson, N.H.) would score the final point of the game, and put the finishing touches on a 91-73 victory for the AMCATS. The win is the AMCATS sixth in a row dating back to January 30th.
Next up for conference #8 seed Anna Maria will be a trip to #1 seed Albertus Magnus College on Tuesday evening in the quarter finals of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference playoffs!