Northwestern caps its dream week with BL Tournament championship
LITCHFIELD – It’s rare that one would classify a 14-6 regular season as a disappointment.
But that’s the outlook the Northwestern boys basketball team had towards its fourth place Berskhire League finish. Instead of pouting about it, though, the Highlanders took matters into their own hands at the BL Tournament this week.
After dismantling No. 1 Nonnewaug in the semifinals, the Highlanders kept their momentum rolling in the finals as they handled second-seeded Litchfield, 71-56, to capture the tournament Thursday night before 800 fans at Wamogo High School.
With a 17-6 record heading into next week’s Class M Tournament, Northwestern certainly feels a lot better about itself than it did a week ago.
“It was a disappointing regular season,” said Bobby Lippincott, who notched 16 points and 10 rebounds. “Somehow, we were able to find our groove in the tournament. I wish we played the whole year the way we played in our last two games, but this definitely makes up for it.”
Added Connor Guiheen, who netted 17 points for Northwestern, “We had high expectations going into this season and we lost some games late in the game, which hurt. Thankfully, now, we’ve been able to put everything together when it matters the most.”
Northwestern, which avenged two regular season losses to the Cowboys, jumped out to a 25-10 lead in the second quarter, powered by a 13-0 run. Guiheen nailed two threes in that stretch and added a 10-foot jumper for eight of his points.
On the brink of getting blown out of the gym, Litchfield changed its game-plan and went with a full-court press and it threw the Highlanders off stride. The Cowboys forced 10 turnovers in the quarter and scored 11 straight points to pull within four at 25-21.
Guiheen, however, put an end to that spurt with a three-point play and Brandon Couloutte scored on a lay-up on the final play of the period to extend Northwestern’s lead to 30-23.
“We like to play up-tempo and their press led to the pace we like,” Northwestern head coach Doug Sebach. “We just needed to find a way to break it.”
The Highlanders solved it in the third by limiting their dribbling and breaking the endless pressure with crisp passes. Lippincott was a big recipient of the improved execution, registering three lay-ups and three free throws as the Highlanders headed into the fourth up 12.
“The biggest key for us overcoming the press was to keep calm,” Lippincott said. “Once we were able to relax, we started to limit our mistakes.”
Unfortunate for the eyes, the fourth quarter was a foul-fest with the teams combining for 34 free throws attempts. Fittingly for the way this tournament went, Northwestern had one of its better foul shooting performances of the season, hitting 22 of 30 tries.
“This was the best we shot free throws all season,” noted Sebach. “I was wondering after the Nonnewaug game whether we’d be able to play like that again. The kids did a great job stepping up and getting the job done.”
Litchfield, which drops to 17-6, will face St. Bernard next week at home in the Class S Tournament. On Thursday, Mike Andrulis scored a team-high 19 points, while Quinn McKenna finished with 13.
The Highlanders, led by John Stevens' 21 points, will play host to Ansonia of the Naugatuck Valley League in the Class M first round. Their focus is carrying over this play into states.
“We played all the top teams in the league close this season, but had some trouble closing games,” Sebach said. “This week, we got on a roll and hopefully it’ll continue.”