THOMASTON >> Thomaston’s boys basketball team (7-12) kept its state tournament hopes alive Wednesday night with a 55-41 win over Gilbert (1-18) that was much more competitive than the final score.
Gilbert won the first half, 25-13, with defense and energy. Thomaston roared back in the second half with energy, height and talent.
The Golden Bears, starting just one senior, won four of their last five games, including an upset over Wamago, another Berkshire League team on the rise.
Still, without a win over Gilbert and another bigger upset over Northwestern tonight, the streak is just a launching pad for next year.
“I told them at the half, ‘Our whole season hopes come down to tonight,’” said Thomaston Coach A.J. Bunel. “’This is not how we expected it to end.’”
Gilbert starts five seniors who played close to many of its opponents, including an eight-point loss to cross-town rival Northwestern, one of the league’s leaders, two weeks ago.
In the first half, the Yellowjackets’ trapping, full-court press brought back flashes of the legendary program’s heydays.
Often keying on steals from the press, Gilbert held the Bears to just 7 points in the first quarter while racing off to a 13-7 lead.
Yellowjacket Garrett Lombardo (team-high 15 points) racked up six points in the period just that way.
Meanwhile, the Bears were flat except for Justin Taylor, the lone starting senior.
Taylor helped keep Thomaston in it with three of his six steals for the game.
“I pretty much just give it my all every game,” Taylor said.
Despite Taylor’s efforts, the second quarter was just as bad for the Bears.
Thomaston’s Noah Daigle started it with an eight-foot runner, but Gilbert guard Archie Aoerquilong, one of the most energetic of the Yellowjackets, followed with a three.
Jake Wendel had a steal and an end-to-end race for a layup; Aorquilong followed a three by Jared Kahn (14 points) with another Gilbert steal and layup.
At 22-12, the Yellowjackets seemed ready to bury the Bears, despite an increasing cost in fouls for their pressing defense.
Then came Bunel’s locker room reminder.
“We didn’t want to lose for the seniors,” said Kahn.
Thomaston raced out of its locker room, starting the quest as a different team.
Daigle started with a layup on a great pass from Kahn; Taylor (14 points) sank two foul shots.
The Golden Bear energy already rippled. Then Kahn made a steal, raced alone to the hoop and jammed down his first dunk of the season.
The dunk narrowed Gilbert’s gap to 27-19, but there were more important consequences.
“The dunk got their energy back up,” said Gilbert Coach Mark Douglass.
Just as importantly, it caused a sag in the Yellowjackets’ knees.
“We had too many unforced turnovers – well over 18, mostly in the second half,” said Douglass. “And we missed our shots.”
“It wasn’t just the dunk; it was a great team effort in the second half,” said Bunel.
Like an arm wrestling match in which Thomaston slowly brought its fist up from the table, the juice flowed on both sides in the third period.
Taylor hit a key three-pointer from the corner two minutes in, 27-24.
A five-foot runner by Devan Donofrio brought Thomaston the lead, 29-28.
Gilbert took it back twice on layups by Ian Ryan and Lombardo.
By the end of the period, following another Taylor steal, Sean Fitzpatrick floated a two-footer, 35-33, Thomaston.
The Golden bears ran off the first eight points of the final period, 43-33, and never let up from there.
Tonight, the challenge comes at Northwestern, 7 p.m.
Thomaston 55, Gilbert 41
At Thomaston High School
Gilbert 13 12 8 8 – 41
Thomaston 7 6 22 20 – 55
Gilbert (41): Jake Wendel 2-0-4; Chad Closson 1-1-4; Yurey Reyes 1-0-2; Joe Brugmann 0-0-0; Garrett Lombardo 5-5-15; Archie Aoerquilong 3-2-9; Juan Sarmiento 0-1-1; Ian Ryan 1-0-2; Matt Coon 1-0-2; Kyle Root 1-0-2; Totals: 15-9-41.
Thomaston (55): Isaac Yaffe 0-0-0; Justin Taylor 4-4-14; Devan Donofrio 2-0-4; Sean Fitzpatrick 1-0-2; Chad Robinson 0-2-2; Noah Daigle 8-1-17; Austin Frank 0-0-0; Jared Kahn 5-2-14; Aaron Madow 0-0-0; Jon Wilson 0-0-0; Totals: 21-9-55.
3-point goals: G – Closson; Aoerquilong. T – Taylor 2; Kahn 2.
Records: Gilbert 1-18; Thomaston 7-12.