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Comeback bid comes up just short as Eagles fall to Stevens

Gilford nearly erases 17-point deficit in preliminary round defeat

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Gilford’s Ronny Bean drives in past a Stevens defender during first half action in the Golden Eagles’ 65-52 loss in the Division III preliminary round on Feb. 29. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
March 05, 2012
CLAREMONT – It easily could've been over for the Gilford High School boys' basketball team with 1:57 left in the first quarter on Feb. 29.

Playing on the road in hostile territory, the Golden Eagles looked up at the scoreboard and saw they trailed host Stevens High School, 19-4, after just over six minutes of play in their Division III preliminary round game.

It wasn't a win, but Gilford climbed back from the dead after a miserable start, getting to within four points in the final minutes before succumbing to the seventh-seeded Cardinals, 65-52, on a snowy night at Frederick Carr Gymnasium.

"We didn't handle ourselves well early," admitted Gilford coach Chip Veazey. "The guys were very tight."

Stevens (13-7 overall) led 11-0 before the Eagles had even settled into an offensive flow, as cold outside shooting and poor execution led to easy baskets on the other end. The lead grew to 19-4 before Gilford put in back-to-back hoops, as Ronny Bean and Connor Veazey scored to close the gap to 19-8.

Stevens led 21-8 after one quarter, and that advantage would only grow in the opening minutes of the second frame. Cam Blewitt hit a three and followed with a layup a moment later, putting the Cardinals ahead 27-10 with 6:56 left before halftime.

The beginning of a long night for the Eagles? Not so fast.

Ben Morris scored the first basket of what would eventually become a 12-1 Gilford run, while Bean followed with a sweet reverse layup seconds later. David Sykie, who would be a menace on the boards all night long, put back an offensive rebound for two points in the spurt, and the junior forward added four points from the free throw line before halftime as well. Bean would pick up his third foul with 4:55 left in the half however, forcing him to spend the remainder of the period on the bench alongside coach Veazey.

With point guard Derrick Dubois also out of the lineup after playing only briefly in the first quarter due to illness, sophomores Cam Patridge and Jack Athanas were called on to play key minutes early on, and the duo produced. Stevens managed just one point in the final 6:56 of the second quarter, and the Eagles had clawed within 28-22 at intermission as a frustrated team of Cardinals could only stand and watch their lead shrink at home.

"It doesn't help to get into a hole like that," Veazey said. "But they opened the door for us a little bit after that. They didn't put us away and we played through the early struggles."

Stevens coach Scott MacNamee wasn't pleased with how quickly his team allowed Gilford back into the ballgame, as the momentum seemed to shift at the drop of a hat in the second quarter.

"It really boils down to losing focus and losing the effort that we had been playing with," MacNamee said. "We're a good enough team to dictate the game with our defense but Gilford stayed confident. A lot of teams would've folded when they get into a hole like that."

The Cardinals appeared destined to pull away again early in the third quarter, as the hosts opened the frame on a 9-2 run thanks to three straight hoops from Billy Brooks. The squad led 37-24 after the spurt, and when Bean picked up his fourth foul with 3:21 left, fortunes seemed grim for the Eagles.

Veazey stuck with the senior guard despite the foul trouble, and he responded by keying yet another Gilford run. Bean's 3-pointer with 2:20 left in the third got the Eagles within 40-34, the closest the team had been since halftime.

"We wanted to go after (Bean), get him fouled out, but coach Veazey did a good job putting him on our worst offensive player (defensively) after he picked up his fourth foul," said MacNamee.

Stevens led 50-39 early in the fourth after a Logan Batchelder layup, but GHS answered with three straight hoops from Bean, Sykie and Athanas to cut the deficit to 50-45 with 4:20 left.

"We just had to start executing better against their press and we took care of the ball well at times," Veazey said.

Sykie drained a pair of free throws with 3:33 left in regulation, getting Gilford as close as it had been since early in the first quarter at 53-49. The Eagles had several chances to cut into the lead even more, but turnovers led to layups on the other end for Stevens. The Cardinals closed out the game on a 12-3 run, with Connor Veazey's three-pointer with 1:37 left proving to be the final GHS points of the night en route to the 65-52 final.

"It didn't feel like the game was over until the last 30 seconds," Veazey said. "I thought we were still in it until the very end. We had some things we could do against them that we didn't take full advantage of. We had some turnovers late that we haven't had for most of the season."

Despite being outsized at nearly every position, Gilford held an edge in rebounding thanks in large part to an impressive 19 offensive boards. Sykie and Morris had strong games inside for the Eagles, while Athanas provided a boost off the bench.

"We've been smaller than teams for most of the year," admitted Veazey. "But I'm not surprised we were able to hold our own in the paint."

Despite the foul trouble, Bean managed to stay on the floor until the end, and he closed out his high school career with a team-high 19 points, including 13 in the second half. Sykie scored 14 points in an impressive effort in the post, while Athanas and Morris each added six points in the loss.

Blewitt led all scorers with 24 points for Stevens, including 15 in the first half and 10 in the first quarter alone. Brooks totaled 14 points in the win.

"They answered the bell down the stretch," said MacNamee of his squad.

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