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Thomas plays through the pain as Raiders get by St Paul in Division III state tournament game. Face Prince Tech on Saturday in Hartford.

POSTED March 09, 2018
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

TORRINGTON: Sometimes, especially at this time of the year, you have to play through whatever ails you.

Heck, if you don't give a full effort and lose, you have plenty of time to heal up in the off season while those who keep pushing forward despite the pain play on.

On Friday night, after what seemed like a month of time off due to the miserable weather of late, Dontae Thomas and the Torrington basketball team found a way to move on with a 56-51 win over St Paul in their Division III second round game.

For their efforts, the Raiders get the #3 seed, Prince Tech, on Saturday night on the road in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m.  

Thomas didn't start the game due to a wrist injury that bothered him throughout but didn't stop him from scoring 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter when the Raiders pulled away from the Falcons just enough to move on.

His head coach, Eric Gamari was impressed with his effort and let him know after the win.

"He gutted it out," Gamari said. "That's what I told him after the game. "A big performance by him."

The Falcons, who were beaten by 21 the first time the two teams met, came into the game with a new-found determination, fueled by their stepped-up play at the end of the regular season.

Torrington on the other hand, had lost their last two regular season games and were blown out in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament against Crosby eleven days ago.

That's a long time not to play a game that counts, even though the Raiders scrimmaged neighbor Northwestern during the long break.

During the extended down time, the players also had a request for their head coach, who may have been surprised but in a pleasant way.

The Raiders have been a run and gun team all year with their running leading to a high number of three-point baskets, usually double digits if things had been going well.

Of late though, especially at the end of the regular season, the treys had not been falling or they had run into teams that loved to run even more than they did.

What it led to was a request to vary their offense a bit.

"The kids came to me," Gamari said. "They said they wanted to run more sets and I said fine. We're really not a half court team but they wanted more of a set and controlled pace at times."

It had been true since the start of last year that the Raiders were not a very good offensive team in half court, but they felt they needed to change things up, so they were not so predictable.

On Friday, before a good crowd at the Connie Donahue (nice turnout by the Falcons fans as well) the home team got off to a good start at 8-3 behind four points from Hunter Murphy (10 points) and an inspired effort on both ends of the court by junior Kevin Dixon.

Dixon made a nice move for his team's first two points on a nifty left handed layup and later in the quarter by blocking a pair of St Paul shots.

"Kevin played very well," Gamari said. "He had his energy back, he had been a little tired."

After St Paul took the lead at the end of the first quarter at 9-8, they expanded that lead to 19-13 off a 7-0 run that they pushed out to 24-17 with 2:33 left in the first half.

Joel Villanueva (team high 13 points) had seven of those points in the first half to keep his team close and when senior Jordan Henneberry scored the final two buckets of the second quarter, the home team was down just one at 24-23 after 16 minutes of play.

Dixon came out strong in the third quarter as well, converting a bucket and one on a strong inside that put his team back in the lead and signaled a switch in the games momentum.

They would not trail by more than two after that point and off consecutive strong drives to the basket by senior Richy Rodriguez and Henneberry with a key three-pointer from Villanueva to boot for a 37-33 lead after three.

Thomas would shine right off the bat in the final frame, driving hard through a crowd for a basket and one that gave the home team their biggest lead at 40-33.

St Paul would get to within two with under two minutes to go at 50-48 but the Raiders made four of six free throws down the stretch to clinch the win.  

So, the Raiders extend the season for another day but will need to be bring everything they have once again in less than twenty-four hours if they don't want it to be the last game of their campaign.

Prince Tech posted an 18-2 regular season record and beat Daniel Hand by a 69-41 final.

Time to leave it all out on the court one more time, no matter how much it hurts.

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