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McGrath gets hot and Highlanders rally past Spartans to clinch a share of the BL title

POSTED February 20, 2015
BY John Nestor
Twitter: @nestorjdn

Steve McGrath shook off some early foul trouble and the Northwester boys basketbll team overcame a second-half deficit in a 56-51 victory at Lewis Mills on Thursday night.

The win clinched at least a share of the Berkshire League title for Northwestern, which is 14-2 in the league and 15-3 overall. The Highlanders have a two-game lead on Mills and Terryville with just two games to play in the regular season and they now own a season series sweep over the Spartans.

This one wasn't easy.

It was Project Purple night at Mills and the Highlanders and Spartans engaged in a double header. The Mills girls won the opener to finish the regular season at 15-5 and then it was time for the boys to take center stage with first place in the league on the line.

The Spartans led 26-18 at the half and were ahead 36-27 with 1:18 left in the third when they burned a timeout. The Highlanders responded by scoring the final 10 points of the quarter and take a 37-36 lead into the fourth.

"We talked about getting stops and having better execution on offense," Northwestern coach Doug Sebach said. "We got some good looks and we started making them."

No one made bigger hoops than McGrath, who shook off two quick fouls to have a huge second half. He buried a three at the horn to end the third and put Northwestern on top and he made two more to start the fourth and his blocked shot and follow layup have the Highlanders a 45-37 lead.

"It was a big game and we knew it was going to be tough," McGrath said. "They beat us three times last year so for us to come back and with pretty much the same group of guys come through with a win in a big spot feels really good."

McGrath is a senior as are Rich Persechino and Zach Tuxbury, who added 13 and 11 points respectively. Tuxbury iced the game with two free throws with nine seconds to play and was six of seven from the line in the fourth. 

"We went down and came back, didn't get down," Tuxbury said. "We got Steve back in the game and our defense turned to offense. I was a little nervous at the line down the stretch but to finish it off was awesome. It was for the league, so it was great."

While the Highlanders need just one win in their final two games to clinch the BL title outright, there is still a lot of basketball to play for the Spartans (12-6). Seeding in the BL Tournament and in Class M would be improved with two more wins.

"There is still a lot to play for and we have to have the goal to get to 14 wins," Lewis Mills coach Todd Kozak said. "We played well for a good stretch to make tonight mean something and now we have to bounce back."

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