Jackets topple Highlanders to sweep 2012 season series
WINSTED — During football season, Gilbert and Northwestern regional high schools join forces in what has evolved into a very successful cooperative effort. However, when the basketball season rolls around, the air of cooperation is thrown to the wind. It’s back to the basics between these two friendly (for the most part) rivals and, as always, each edition of the rivalry provides excitement. Friday night, Feb. 4, was no exception.Looking back at the season’s first game played between these two teams in December, it’s no wonder that the Gilbert Gym, affectionately known as the “Hive,” was packed with a standing room only crowd.In that December matchup, the Highlanders from Northwestern raced out to a 19-point lead at the end of the first half only to see that lead evaporate in the second half. The Jackets rallied to take a 13-point lead into the final three minutes of that game, but proceeded to lose the advantage before escaping with a 79-78 victory.Friday’s game was a reversal of form as the Jackets jumped out to a 30-21 halftime lead. The Highlanders, however, were not about to lie down or go away by any stretch. Led by junior guard Connor Guiheen, the Highlanders found their offensive groove in the third period. Guiheen scored three quick baskets with less than three minutes left in the period, and baskets by Michael Jeffko and Eric Weingart drew the Highlanders into a tie, 44-44. The momentum had definitely swung in the Highlanders’ direction, but to their credit, Gilbert refused to buckle under. A basket by senior Devon Mulway put the Jackets back in front. Austin Brochu, Gilbert’s All-Berkshire League center (and a lock for All-State) followed with a three-point goal. When the horn sounded to end the period, the Jackets found themselves back in front by a score of 50-46, setting the stage for an action-packed fourth period.Jackets All-League guard Robert Skinner, prone to fouling, once again was benched early. The junior would spend as much time on the bench as he did in the game. It didn’t matter; Brochu scored the first five points of the fourth period to stretch the lead to 55-46. Molway banged another three and the Jackets had taken complete control of the game.When Skinner finally returned to the court with less than four minutes to play, Gilbert had stretched the lead to 64-50. From that point on the teams raced back and forth up the court while exchanging baskets, but the Highlanders could not overcome the big lead. A couple of late baskets by Northwestern brought them to within 11, 80-69, when the horn sounded to end the game.A number of players made key contributions to the Jackets victory, but no one more so than Brochu. Facing a collapsing defense, the senior center muscled his way through double and triple teams to score a game-high 29 points while dominating the boards on both ends, garnering 19 rebounds.At the same time, Molway did a superb job defensively on the Highlanders’ leading scorer, John Stevens, holding him to 14 points while scoring 14 points himself, 10 of which came in the fourth period. Junior Luis Cordova continued his fine play at both ends of the court, scoring 12. Reserve guard J.P. Dulac did an outstanding job filling in for Skinner, who managed to score 20 points in his limited playing time. Finally, seniors Dan Williams and Mitch Maher contributed to the win by working both defensively and on the boards for the Jackets.Guiheen, who was very quiet in the first half, caught fire in the second half, scoring 19 of his team-high 22 points to lead the Highlanders. Stevens added 14, while center Mike Jeffko finished with ll.The loss dropped the Highlanders into a first-place tie with Nonnewaug, both with a record of 11-2 in the conference. With the victory, the Jackets now trail the league leaders by one game in the loss column with a league record of 11-3.