GROTON — Eventually this day would come. That was what Groton-Dunstable boys’ basketball coach Keith Woods kept telling himself. He saw how hard his team was working and how close they had come to getting their first win in the recent weeks. The Crusaders were due and on Friday night they got what they deserved, a hard-fought 65-59 victory over Gardner for their first mark in the victory column this year.
“We have worked hard all year long and we were coming off our best practice of the season so I knew we were close,” said Woods. “Tonight, we finally finished out a game. Over the last couple of games, there were a lot of times we should have won but gave it away at the end. Tonight, the kids handled their business and got the win.”
Groton-Dunstable got huge efforts from Ricky Akins and Mike Silinonte to lead the way. Akins, an undersized power forward, put together his best effort of his career, finishing with 24 points, 18 rebounds and four steals. Silinonte added 19 points and five rebounds and was solid from the free throw line, hitting seven of his eight attempts.
“Ricky Akins was phenomenal tonight and put us on his back at points,” said Woods. “The intensity he brought onto the floor tonight was outstanding. Then you have Mike who did a nice job attacking the basket throughout. Those two really had big nights for us and were catalysts in this win.”
Over the first six minutes of the contest, the teams traded baskets as they felt either out. Each team got buckets from four different players, including a lay-up by Groton-Dunstable’s Ryan Romich that cut the Wildcats lead to 9-8.
Gardner then opened things up, putting together a 14-1 run to grab control of game. Nate Harty led the way with five points while Anthony Malave came off the bench to drain a three-pointer that extended the lead to 14 at 23-9.
Facing a double-digit deficit, the Crusaders dug in and responded with a spurt of their own. Groton-Dunstable closed out the opening half by scoring 19 of the final 24 points to tie the game. Leading the way was Akins who poured in 10 points, including a running five-foot jumper that made it 28-28 heading into the intermission.
It took a little over three minutes into the second half for the Crusaders to grab their first lead of the night. Silinonte hauled down an offensive rebound and put back home a lay-up to give Groton-Dunstable a one-point edge at 32-31.
The Wildcats responded with a 9-4 run to regain the advantage. Malave led the way with four points and added an assist on a Harty lay-up that gave Gardner a four-point lead at 40-36 with nine minutes left to play.
Akins and Pat McKinney helped the Crusaders respond with a 15-4 to take back the lead and gain control of the contest. Akins hit for seven points, including a trey that made it 45-42. McKinney, splitting time between junior varsity and varsity, came off the bench and hit four free throws as the lead grew to seven at 51-44.
At three separate times, the Wildcats drew within three, the last being after a pair of Tourigny free throws made it a 57-54 game. Silinonte knocked down a pair of free throws and Derek McCaffrey hit an off-balance running jumper to push the lead back to seven at 61-54.
It seemed the Crusaders were in the clear, but Gardner had one last run in them. Tourigny hit for four quick points to draw the Wildcats within four at 62-58, but this time Groton-Dunstable put the game on ice. Silinonte converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 30 seconds to go to cap off his team’s first victory of the year.
“We desperately needed this win just to show that all the hard work in practice is paying off,” said Woods. “I am so proud of the kids, they have never gotten down on themselves and this is a just reward. What we need to do now is build off this and close out the season on a high note.”
Romich finished with eight points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots for the Crusaders. McCaffrey added six points and seven assists while Cam Willcox did a great job defensively in the post throughout the night.
Tourigny paced Gardner with 28 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. Harty added 11 points and three steals while Matt Gerner chipped in nine points, nine boards, four assists and four steals.