By Matt Stewart
FITCHBURG — In an even game, turnovers can surely tip the scales. St. Bernard’s made Groton-Dunstable feel uncomfortable taking the ball up court in the second half, which proved to be the difference in Thursday’s semi-final Division 1 tournament game that saw the Bernardians down the Crusaders by a 54-45 margin, in Monty Tech Summer League Basketball action.
After getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, St. Bernard’s (11-3) now reaches the promised land with a title shot against top seed Leominster Friday at 8 p.m.
Groton-Dunstable (8-8) which upset the Bernardians in the first round, couldn’t repeat as its season comes to an end.
Most stats were pretty even between the two teams in the second half, with the exception of the glaring difference in turnovers.
St. Bernard’s forced the Crusaders into 11 second half giveaways, only committing four of their own.
“We won the turnover battle in the second half,” St. Bernard’s coach Paul Fillebrown said. “Once you saw our 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s stealing the ball that’s when we stepped up. If we did that at the beginning of the game, I think it would’ve been higher scoring. But Groton-Dunstable is a tough group of kids that played strong.”
There was an even guard showdown between both sides, as St. Bernard’s Marcus Babineau and Groton-Dunstable’s Tyler Leclerc each scored a game high 19 points.
The big man battle was relative even as well, with the Crusaders’ Gavin Keough netting 15 points, and St. Bernard’s post player Curtiss Vachon scored 12.
St. Bernard’s actually trailed five minutes into the second half, but with the help of Vachon, Cooper Bigelow, and Parker Bigelow Groton-Dunstable’s turnover woes began, and the Bernardians were able to capitalize on a nice run.
Parker Bigelow (8 points) started the spurt by draining a 3 from the elbow, and then after a Keough bucket in the paint, St. Bernard’s responded with a Vachon fall back trey from the corner, and another Parker Bigelow three-pointer from the elbow, which capped off the 9-2 spurt with a St. Bernard’s 42-36 lead with 12:20 left in the game.
Both teams traded mini-runs over the next seven minutes, until Babineau, who ignited to start the game, started finding his groove again. Leading only by a 46-42 margin, Babineau sank two freebies, and then netted a fast-break bucket off of a turnover, which bumped the lead to 50-42 with 2:20 left.
It turned into a free-throw battle down the stretch, which St. Bernard’s won, taking the nine point victory.
Groton-Dunstable was feeling it from the outside in the first half, draining five three-pointers late. The Crusaders got a little too reliant on the deep ball in the second half however, shooting 2 for 10 from beyond the arc.
“It’s the fourth time we’ve played each other, and they got us three out of four,” Groton-Dunstable coach Dave Burke said. “St. Bernard’s is a good team that plays the game the right way, and play hard.”
Just as he did one elimination game prior against North Middlesex, Babineau set the tone early with three treys, two of which were from the elbow, and later a Vachon fast-break bucket helped build a 14-5 Bernardian lead right out of the gates.
A bank three-pointer from Vachon shortly afterwards gave the Navy and Gold its largest lead of the half, at 11, but the Crusaders started chipping away at it. Leclerc drained a three-ball from the elbow, sank a couple free-throws, and then Keough scored in the post, which chopped the deficit to 18-14.
Later an 8-0 GD run completely closed the gap, as Keough scored a bucket in the paint, Leclerc sank a trey from the elbow and another from up top, which tied the game at 22-22.
It looked like the Crusaders would take a lead into the break as Leclerc popped another 3 from the elbow, but Babineau was up to the task, sinking a trey from the corner, which tied the game at 25-25 at halftime.
“In the first round we lost to Groton-Dunstable,” Vachon said. “I think thought it was really great to redeem ourselves, in a big game like this to get into a championship.”