Northwestern shows its experience in victory over Gilbert
WINSTED - Northwestern and Gilbert played a game that a year ago, the Yellowjackets would have won.
This isn't last year.
Sparked by a fast start to the fourth quarter, 22 points by John Stevens and 21 points from Connor Guiheen, Northwestern remained unbeaten and clinched a share of the Berkshire League regular season title with a 78-65 victory over Gilbert on Tuesday night at Northwestern Regional High School.
The Higlanders improved to 16-0 overall and 15-0 in the BL. They have a three-game lead over Gilbert and Terryville with three league games remaining on the schedule, including a matchup with the Kangaroos on Monday.
Northwestern is just four wins from a perfect regular season and one more league win from back-to-back BL titles. The Highlanders have been a force this season but their success is rooted in past failures.
Last season the Yellowjackets (11-4, 11-3 BL) won all three meetings with the Highlanders, coming back from big deficits in two of the games, including an overtime win in the BL Tournament Championship game. Northwestern got a measure of revenge Tuesday, beating its Winsted rivals for the second time this season, by staying calm and cool while executing when it counted.
"We were able to stay composed and finish it out," Stevens said. "We didn't get down on ourselves when they made a run and to have a close game like this and hold the lead is going to be something that helps us moving on.'
Gilbert held a 53-52 lead after the third quarter, but as they have all season, Stevens and Guiheen stepped up and made plays when Northwestern needed them most. Stevens (22 points) scored a pair of baskets in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to spark a 10-0 run by the Highlanders and give them a lead they would never relinquish. Stevens added a driving hoop and Guiheen had four points in the spurt.
When Guiheen (21 points) made two free throws to cap the run, Northwestern led 62-53 with 4:20 to play and Gilbert had yet to score in the quarter.
"We just need to learn how to finish down the stretch," Gilbert coach Mark Douglass. "We had some lapses on offense and Northwestern is a good team. That's what they do, you make a mistake and they can capitalize on it."
While Stevens and Guiheen were leading the Highlanders to the lead, the Yellowjackets were looking for someone to take over on offense down the stretch but never founf anyone to do it. Luis Cordova (16 points) was sitting for the forst two minutes of the fourth quarter with four fouls and Robert Skinner had a cold night from the field overall despite finishing with 16 points.
The Yellowjackets did not score until the fourth quarter was nearly half over, getting their first bucket from Yoharky Sarmiento to make it 62-55 with 4:05 to play. The cold spell proved costly and the Highlanders never let the Yellowjackets back in the game. Arthur Lefevre (13 points) made all six of his free throws down the stretch and when Skinner fouled out with 1:14 to go with Gilbert down seven, the game was essentially over.
"It's a rivalry night and is always a battle, so you never know what is going to happen but we found a way to get a win tonight," Northwestern coach Doug Sebach said. "I think our defense and rebounding helped turn things around tonight."
It also didn't hurt to have Stevens and Guiheen either as they kept the Highlanders in the game, especially in the second and third quarters when the Yellowjackets at time seemed poised to open up a lead, and then helped put it away in the fourth.
"It's awesome. It's a great feeling to beat these guys and we are going to enjoy this one but at the same time we really haven't accomplished anything," Stevens said. "We want to just keep on rolling and take it a game at a a time."
Sounds like a player speaking from experience.