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Northwestern beats Terryville for fourth time, moves on to Class S quarterfinals...Story by John Nestor
This story brought to you by: Litchfield Saltwater Grille
WINSTED - Coming off a difficult loss, Northwestern wasn't about to have a hangover, there was just too much at stake.
John Stevens and Conner Guiheen both scored 17 points and the fifth-seeded Highlanders advanced to the Class S quarterfinals with a 63-48 victory over No. 12 Terryville in a second-round state tournament matchup Wednesday night in Winsted.
The Highlanders (19-4) advance to a meeting with No. 4 Classical Magnet on Friday in Hartford. Classical advanced to the queaters with an 87-56 victory over No. 20 Old Lyme on Wednesday.
Northwestern had been off since Thursday when it lost to Gilbert in overtime in the Berkshire League Tournament final. It was a tough loss for the Highlanders, their third to the Yellowjackets this season, but faced with a familiar foe with who they had three tough games already this season, the Highlanders came out ready to go.
"The kids were fine the very next time we had practice, they are a tough bunch," Northwestern coach Doug Sebach said. "It's the state tournament and there is a lot at stake. We knew we were facing a tough team and facing them four times made it that much more important for us to get off to a good start."
If Terryville was hoping to catch Northwestern a little hung over from the loss to Gilbert the Kangaroos realized right away that wasn't happening. Northwestern went on an 11-0 run after Terryville scored the opening hoop of the game and it led 22-13 after one.
"The most important part of the game was the fast start and we were able to start it with our defense," said Stevens, who scored nine points in the opening quarter. "We hit the boards and pushed the tempo."
Terryville (16-7) was facing Northwestern for the fourth time and had played tough in each of the first three games, including leading in the fourth quarter in the BL semifinals. But the Highlanders have that quality that basketball teams like to call 'spurt-ability' and whenever the Kangaroos threatened a comeback it was answered.
In the second quarter freshman Shea Tracy hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 24-18 but Northwestern answered with a 9-1 run to close out the first half. In the third quarter the Kangaroos made another push, only to have it answered by the Highlanders.
"The last time we played them in the BL semifinals they jumped out to a lead and we fought all the way back and took the lead because then we did a great job of controlling those spurts," Terryville coach Mark Fowler said. "That's who they are, they are so explosive and we got lured into playing at their pace. And that's something we didn't want to do."
Jacob Johnson hit 3-pointers on consecutive trips for Terryville, the second cutting a 16-point lead to 39-32 with three minutes left in the third quarter. This time Northwestern answered with a 12-0 burst to take a 51-32 lead into the fourth.
Not only can the Highlanders go on runs at any time, when they are clicking, they get scoring from just about every spot on the floor. Stevens and Guiheen had their usual strong offensive games, but the third-quarter surge that put the game away was keyed by senior forward Jake Plitt.
Plitt hit a pair of jumpers, scored on a layup and came up with a steal that he fed to Stevens for a layup during the run. It took what could have been a close game and pretty much turned it into a formality over the final eight minutes as the Kangaroos just ran out of gas and could not manage another push.
"That's when we are dangerous, when we have everyone playing together and looking for each other on offense," Plitt said. "I had missed a couple earlier, but everyone shared tha ball and I got some openings in good spots. We knew it was going to be tough, but it was a great win."
A great win that showed a lot about a really good team. Many times an emotional loss to a rival has lasting effects, and in a negative way. The highlanders showed Wednesday that they have moved on and have even bigger goals in mind after winning the BL regular season title.
"It was a tough loss but we moved on. It was the BL tournament and there are bragging rights and everything, but it didn't end our season," Stevens said. "We knew we could come out and win tonight against a good team if we played like we could. It's the state tournament now, we have bigger goals."
To achieve those goals the Highlanders will have to overcome Classical Magnet and high-scoring guard Jaquann Starks.
"Whoever we get, we'll be ready," Sebach said. "We just have to take it one day at a time. We'll come back tomorrow, we'll know who we play and we will get ready for the next game. It's the state tournament, the kids will be ready."
Just like they showed Wednesday night.