30 seconds left, the entire crowd on their feet, the Dunne Gym filled with the sonic boom of the Jungle.  The ball in David Giribaldi’s hands.  These are the kind of moments the Andover men’s varsity basketball team lives for.  He drives, he rolls the ball off his fingertips, the crowd hushes and then explodes as “Giri” gives the Warriors their first lead of the night in the 4th quarter against the Billerica Indians.  And this is how the Warriors playoff run BEGAN.

 Possibly the grittiest group of men Andover High has ever seen, the 2013-2014 Warriors have made their statement, and still have some unfinished business left on their plates.  “Fearless.  We’ve been fearless,” said Coach David Fazio on his team’s astounding playoff run.  And fearless they have been as they head into the North finals riding high after their comeback win against Billerica, their overtime thriller against Lynn-English, and their nail-biting victory against Everett.

The goal of the entire team has been nothing short of a state championship and the Andover men have put themselves in the best position possible.  Giribaldi has found his niche as the team’s leading scorer through the playoffs: 25 points against Lynn-English, 23 against Billerica, including his clutch game winner, and plenty more.  “[Giribaldi’s] the reason we’re moving on,” said John Pisacreta after the shocking win that propelled the Warriors to the second round.  Giribaldi’s innate ability to get to the basket has proven to be essential for his team.  Whenever they get in trouble on the offensive end, it’s “Giri” they look to.

The defensive end has been a different story, one that includes hot and cold streaks.  But one player has been the anchor to their defense: Connor Merinder.  Merinder racked up 7 blocks in the win against Everett and pulled down 11 rebounds, including the final one of the game as he viciously ripped the ball from an Everett player.  This year’s playoff run has been extremely turbulent, defensively, for the Warriors as they have been outscored in nearly half of the quarters they’ve played.  The Billerica game opened on an 18-3 run in which the Warriors looked slow out of the gates.  The Everett game was nearly lost after the Warriors were outscored 16-8 in the fourth quarter.  But Merinder has maintained his presence in the paint and has grown to be one of the most feared big men in the MVC.  Merinder’s last second block in the Lynn-English game stopped the possible game winner for the Bulldogs.  “[Merinder] keeps the ship floating defensively,” said Coach Fazio about the 6 foot 5 center.  He’s a brute force, a wall of defense and a monster in the paint.

Tenacious has been the definition of the Andover Warriors’ playoff run and season overall.  They play with professionalism, perseverance and power.  And as the Warriors charged the court late Thursday night after the clock wound down in Woburn, they knew that they were destined to do something big.  Andover heads to the Tsongas Arena Saturday to face MVC rival Central Catholic and their feared scorer, Tyler Nelson.  “We’re going to watch a lot of tape,” said Fazio on his preparation for this weekend’s battle.  This is the first time the Warriors will be in the North finals since 2000, but they are more than ready to follow their coach and be truly fearless.

 By Zach Perry