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Mustangs ride defense, balanced attack past Highlanders and into Class S final. Story by John Nestor

POSTED March 15, 2012
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

PLAINVILLE - The Northwestern boys basketball team has had a heck of a run this season, it came to an end Tuesday night against a heck of a team.

The Highlanders picked the wrong game to come out cold shooting the ball and the Mustangs proved to be too much in a 76-51 victory in the Class S semifinals at Plainville High.

The top seed in the Class S tournament, Immaculate advances to face third-seeded Capital Prep in the Class S title game at Mohegan Sun Arena. The fifth-seeded Highlanders end the season 20-5.

Northwestern's strength most of the season has been its ability to hit shots. The Highlanders like to push the tempo and have a number of players who can get got and light up the scoreboard.

Not Tuesday.

Northwestern shot 5-of-25 from the field in the first half and Immaculate took advantage, slowly but surely building its lead. The Mustangs led 18-8 after one by closing the opening quarter on an 8-3 run. The lead was 32-14 at the break as the Highlanders managed only six points in the second quarter.

"We got some looks early on that we liked and that we have been making most of the season but they weren't there for us tonight," Northwestern coach Doug Sebach said. "We knew it was going to be a tough game and that we were going to have to make some shots, and early on we didn't get them to fall."

In the first quarter Northwestern was missing open jumpers. Then when the Highlanders went to drive there was 6-8 center Vitor Melo and 6-5 forward Brian Hatcher waiting for them in the paint.

The Mustangs had no such problems. Felipe Teixeira scored eight of his 21 points in the first quarter to get the Mustangs off and running and he added 11 in the third when they outscored the Highlanders 28-18 and end any hope of a comeback.

Things were going so well for Immaculate that guard Dan McCorkle scored just one hoop in the first half after lighting up Gilbert with 6 3-pointers in the quarterfinals. That basket was a 3-pointer at the horn and it sent Immaculate into the locker room with an 18 point lead.

The third quarter was good news, bad news for the Highlanders as they started to get the offense in gear but so did the Mustangs. Northwestern started the quarter with a 7-2 run to pull within 34-21 on a 3-pointer by Arthur Lefevre. It only seemed to wake Immaculate up.

Teixeira converted a three-point play and McCorkle added a couple hoops as the Mustangs answered with a 13-2 run. By the time John Stevens hit a 3-pointer for the Highlanders, the Mustangs had built up a 49-26 lead witn 3:45 left in the quarter.

The rest was essentially a formality. The Highlanders never quit, but the Mustangs had too many answers. Northwestern went to press, but McCorkle's quickness and Teixeira's driving ability rendered it useless. And when Northwestern extended the defense at times, Melo (13 points) and Sheldon Irving (8 off the bench) found room to score down low.

"We have a lot of weapons and we have been like that all season, each game we will have different players step up for us offensively," Immaculate coach Nelson Mingachos said. "We knew we would have a size advantage on them, and we just had to be patient against their zone and find spots, and we were able to do that."

But it wasn't just all offensive execution, Immaculate played defense as well.

There were some open shots to be had, especially early on for the Highlanders, but they weren't there for Stevens, who the Mustangs seemed to pay particular attention to. and when Stevens did get a look, too few went down.

"They played really well on defense, pressuring the ball, pressuring me, doubling me off screens, and then they had the big guys making things tough down low," Stevens said. "They made it tough, and when we didn't hit shots early, things started to get away from us."

Connor Guiheen led Northwestern with 16 points and was the only Highlander to reach double figures. Senior Jake Plitt scored seven points and Stevens managed six on a pair of threes.

"They were the toughest team we faced all season," Guiheen said. "They can do it all, they have strong guards, can shoot and have the big guys inside. We played hard, but give them credit, they were the better team."

Northwestern lost to a better team Tuesday but the Highlanders were pretty good themselves this season and have a lot to be proud of. They captured the Berkshire League regular-season title and finished the season an impressive 20-5.

"It has been a great season," said Plitt, Northwestern's only senior starter. "Winning the Berskhire Lague for the first time in a long time was a great accomplishment, definitley one of our goals this season. It's tough to end just short of the finals, but it was a great run with these guys."

It was a great run indeed.

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