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Gilbert finds a way to outlast Northwestern for BL Tournament title. Story by John Nestor.
THOMASTON - It really looked like the third time would be the charm for Northwestern, instead Gilbert pulled off a season series three-peat.
The second-seeded Yellowjackets fought back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit and knocked off the top-seeded Highlanders for the third time this season, 93-84, in overtime to win the Berkshire League Tournament title in front of a packed house at Thomaston High School.
Robert Skinner scored 32 points and Austin Brochu added 30 for Gilbert (18-4), which will enter the Class S state tournament on a roll against Berkshire League rival Wamogo on Monday night. For now though the Yellowjackets can bask in the glory that comes with winning the league tournament as well as knocking off the regular-season champs for a third time this season.
"It was a great game between two really good teams," Gilbert coach Mark Douglass said. "Even though we had beaten them twice we were motivated. We read where they said they got the ultimate prize and we used that as motivation. To get this win, it's a great feeling."
"That was a great win," Skinner said. "We knew it was going to be tough and we got away from what we like to do for a while, but what makes this team so good is we fight and don't quit and that was a big difference tonight."
The feeling is not so great for Northwestern (18-4), which has a bye and nearly a week to lick its wounds after this one as it will host the winner of the Terryville/Stafford matchup on Wednesday.
"We'll bounce back, we have a tough group of kids," Northwestern coach Doug Sebach said. "We wanted this game but we want to win every game. We played hard, they just made a few more plays down the stretch than we did."
Thursday night's encounter needed little hype, the Winsted rivals were the two best teams in the league this season and the game came down to whether Northwestern could back up its regular season title with a win or if Gilbert could stake its claim as the BL's best with a third win over their arch rival.
The Yellowjackets came up with that third win, but it wasn't easy.
The Highlanders were up 68-57 with a little over six minutes to play after John Stevens buried a 3-pointer. The lead was still nine, 75-66, after Connor Guiheen split a pair of free throws with nearly three minutes to play but then Gilbert took over.
Skinner scored five quick points, hitting a three and a pair of free throws, to cut the lead to 75-71. Stevens made a free throw for the Highlanders and Dan Williams answered with a layup for the Yellowjackets and all of a sudden Northwestern was clinging to a 76-73 lead with 1:20 to go.
Northwestern had been in a four corners offense for a few minutes trying to nurse the lead and burn the clock. The Highlanders went to it again but committed a back-court violation and Gilbert had the ball with a chance to tie with 58 seconds to play.
The entire gym expected Skinner or Brochu to take the shot and so did Northwestern. That left Luis Cordova opened and as so often happens in these big games, the winning team gets a boost from an unexpected source.
It's not that Cordova can't score, but the Highlanders would have likely conceded him the open three he got rather than Skinner or Brochu and to his credit, Cordova saw he was open and fired from the top of the key, banking in the three and tying it up, 76-76 with 30 seconds left.
"We were working the ball around and my teammates got it to me and I was open," Cordova said. "I had the opening and took it. That's what I have to do, especially when the defense is so focused on Austin and Robert."
Cordova's shot was a gut punch but it still only tied the game and Northwestern had the ball. While they didn't know it at the time, the Highlanders were facing their last chance to win.
Northwestern spread the court again and got Gilbert chasing, Mike Jeffko caught a pass in the lane and was fouled with 2.2 seconds to go, sending him to the line for a pair of free throws. He missed the first short and rimmed out the second after a Gilbert time out, sending the game to overtime.
While the score was tied, 76-76, the Yellowjackets were ahead with all of the momentum.
Devon Molway opened the scoring in OT with a layup for Gilbert and Stevens answered with a drive. The Yellowjackets then went on an 8-0 run, as Brochu scored four points in the spurt that he capped with a nice assist to a cutting Skinner for a layup and an 86-78 lead with 1:17 to go.
Eric Weingart and Stevens hit threes for Northwestern to cut it to 87-84 with a minute to go but Molway, Dan Williams and Skinner each hit two free throws down the stretch to ice it and crown Gilbert as the kings of Winsted and essentially the BL as well.
cordova finished with 17 for Gilbert, including a halfcourt three at the buzzer to end the third and cut Northwestern's lead to 64-55 entering the fourth.
"That's when we are at our best, when we get a bunch of different guys contributing, working the ball around, being unselfish," Brochu said. "We got away from that for a bit but when we got back to playing our game we were able to come back."
With Brochu struggling from the floor early on, the Yellowjackets found a way to 13-5 lead before Northwestern got going. Arthur Lefevre scored all 11 of his points in the first half and Stevens had 11 at the break as the Highlanders took a 41-35 lead into the locker room.
In the third quarter Northwestern threatened to break things open and a hustle play and save by Stevens to Guiheen for a layup put the Higlanders up 59-44 and forced Douglass to burn a timeout to settle things down.
In the huddle he challenged his team to overcome the adversity they were facing and stick together and they responded with an 8-0 run to get back in the game.
"That was the difference, from that point on we stopped hanging our heads and worrying about calls or not getting calls," Douglass said. "We stopped going one-on-one and moved the ball and just had better intensity. We definitely were facing some adversity and the kids fought back from it."
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