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North’s Pena was an obvious winner in a tough defeat

By Tom King - Staff Writer | Mar 11, 2024

The game was over, the chance for a Division I championship lost, and Nashua High School North senior guard Jaden Pena had a message to his teammates as they waited for the post-game ceremony.

“Hold our heads high,” Pena told his friends and teammates Sunday after the tough 90-76 loss to the Pinkerton Academy Astros. “We’re all warriors. Nobody thought we’d be in this position. All the analytics, everybody doubted us. Nobody believed we be at on this (finals) stage. So there’s nothing to be sad about. We can only hold our heads high.”

Pena almost willed his team to win. They were down 13 early and it looked like they’d get run out of Lundholm Gym. But he didn’t let that happen, setting the tone wih 16 of his team-high 30 points in the first half, after which North battled back to lead 43-38.

They just couldn’t sustain it. Pena hit a 3-pointer to push the North lead to 50-42 a couple of minutes into the third quarter, but a 13-0 Astros run did the Titans in.

“Hey, Pinkerton, they’re a great team,” Pena said.

He calls it as he sees it, for sure.

But wow, what a season, what a two-month stretch for North basketball to put the city back on the map when it comes to playing at Durham. They were in big trouble at 4-4 and bounced back, finishing the year at 17-5.

How did they win 13 in a row? “We have amazing teammates, we have amazing coaching staff, and an amazing system, that not only teaches us the X’s and O’s, the amazing I.Q. of basketball, but they teach a life lesson. They teach overcoming adversity. They teach how to get back on your feet. And that’s bigger than basketball. That’s life. And you can thank coach Steve Lane for that, honestly. He’s teaching these players.

“Everybody keeps on asking, ‘How do we bounce back from this?’ And it’s as simple as overcoming adversity. Getting back up when you’re down. It’s as simple as that.”

Wow. Is this a kid who gets it, or what? That may not have been the case at one point, but it’s sure as his 3-point shot is now. You’ve got to love it. He put his head on Lane’s shoulder and hugged him when the starters came out late in the game, as this was it for his Titan career.

“Yeah, he’s come a long way as a kid,” Lane said. “We’re gonna miss him. Hopefully he’s learned a lot, as far as growing up and being a young man. If he takes that away from the program, that’s what we teach more than basketball.”

Nashua North coach Steve Lane comforts Titan senior Jaden Pena as he leaves the Lundholm Gym floor near the end of Sunday’s Divison I title game loss to Pinkerton (Telegraph photo by TOM KING)

Pena keeps it real. He’s a baller. When Pinkerton’s 6-9 beheamoth Jackson Marshall, during his 31-point game, batted away a Pena shot with the game pretty much over, the North kid hugged him and smiled.

“I know Jackson Marshall personally,” Pena said. “So obviously when he blocked that shot I was like ‘Man, this dude got me, but whatever.’

“Hey, Pinkerton deserves it. It was a battle, and the last thing I am is a sore loser. They played amazing.”

So did Pena. He was giving the Astros fits.

“A hundrede percent, 100 percent,” Astros coach Mike Dunham said. “He was very, very tough. We lost him a couple of times, he was so, so good tonight.”

Just on the short end of the score.

“That’s the game of basketball,” Pena said. “There’s a winner, and there’s a loser.”

Put winner next to Jaden Pena’s name, regardless of what the scoreboard said yesterday. The same goes for his Nashua North teammates as well, as he’ll be the first to tell you.

Tom King can be reached at tking@nashuatelegraph.com, or on X, formerly twitter, @Telegraph _TomK.


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