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WORCESTER – It took a while for the Groton-Dunstable Regional boys’ basketball team to get into a solid groove Sunday evening, but once the fourth-seeded Crusaders got going against fifth-seeded Oakmont Regional, there was no stopping them.

Backed by a game-high 19 points out of Tyler LeClerc and a solid supporting 18 out of Ethan Cook, Groton-Dunstable advanced to Thursday’s semifinal round with a 56-36 win over the Spartans in the third Clark Large quarterfinal at the Kneller Athletic Center.

Now 16-3 on the season, Groton-Dunstable will play top-seeded Bartlett at approximately 7:45 p.m. Thursday night, after the Indians dispatched eighth-seeded Quabbin Regional, 79-44, in the fourth and final quarterfinal game of the night.

Oakmont (12-8) now awaits Friday’s Central Mass. Tournament pairings for its next opponent.

The Spartans had pulled to within one, 30-29, following a Jamison Dunn 3-pointer with 3:16 left in the third, capping off a series where the two sides basically traded baskets-and by both teams, we mean Dunn (17 points) and Cook, the two low-post players who are incredibly familiar with each other, seeing as they played AAU together.

Cook used his speed to get around Spartan guards with a little extra it of oomph.

A minute later, and with Dunn on the bench after collecting his third and fourth fouls of the game, Cook matched his trey with one of his own to give G-D a four-point, 33-29 lead.

“We hung around,” said longtime Oakmont coach Eric Dawley. “We just couldn’t go down 10 or 12 in the first quarter, and we didn’t: we made some baskets and the kids started believing in themselves, and for three quarters, we felt like we were in the game. (Groton-Dunstable) is a team that can go out and win Central Mass., so I couldn’t be more proud of our kids in the way we responded.

“(Dunn) can score, and score in bunches. We made a conscious effort to move him inside, and today, he knocked some shots down from the outside to keep us in it.”

Charlie Pappas (5 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) would pull it to within two, 33-31, with a pair from the line, but that would be the last points Oakmont scored until Pappas dialed long distance three minutes into the fourth.

Groton-Dunstable certainly used the time to its advantage, as Cook hit a pair before LeClerc-who was the only player consistently scoring in the first half, scoring on the first play, a nifty left-handed drive to the basket right down the gut en route to 12 first-half points-scored to end the third with a two-possession, 37-31 lead.

“Gavin (Keough) had picked up his fourth, and Ethan slid in there and did the things that Gavin does in scoring and getting rebounds,” Groton-Dunstable head coach Greg Gillette said.

“It was a good senior moment for him; we have 10 seniors, and our depth turned the tide.”
Alex Platt made it a three-possession game as he scored on an offensive rebound to open the fourth, before LeClerc blasted off with another 3-pointer, his third of the game, to give the Crusaders a 42-31 lead.

“I saw a little space and I knew I could hit it,” LeClerc said.
“He’s made big shots for us all year, and his whole career for us,” Gillette said of LeClerc’s sniper-shooting. “He’s a determined kid, and that (3-pointer) was a big play.”

Evan Cook wrapped up the run with a daredevilish driving layup.
After Pappas’s 3, LeClerc, Gavin Keough and Mike Tammaro scored baskets to put this one out of reach.

“They’ve got offensive weapons all over the floor,” Dawley said. “You pay too much attention to one, someone else is going to kill you.”

In all, Oakmont registered three field goals in the fourth.

The first half saw few spells of brilliance, worked around matching 14-turnover halves for both squads: Groton-Dunstable managed to get out to an 8-3 lead as LeClerc and Ethan Cook hit several shots, all in traffic, to get the Crusaders out to a lead they never relinquished.

“I knew I could take it off the dribble and get to the basket. We were drawing fouls and we weren’t dishing well in the first half; we were a little selfish,” LeClerc said. “The second half, we started passing a little more.”

Yet after LeClerc hit a mid-range jumper to open the second, Oakmont scored the next six points in rather unselfish fashion, as Pappas fed Shamus Gorman with a baseball pass for a layup, before Nick Grasser scored on an offensive rebound.

Pappas then fed Dunn with a bounce pass from the outside; Dunn, on the block, maneuvered with a slight spin and put it up and in.

“He’s a tough player, and he can shoot it,” Gillette said of Dunn. “We had three or four different guys on him, and he’s a good offensive player. Seventeen points tonight? He can put it in the hole.”

LeClerc ended the run with a triple.

In the third, Dunn and Cook exchanged baskets with relative ease, but Dunn’s third hoop of the quarter came sandwiched around a pair of Dylan Woods blocked shots that kept the Crusaders within striking distance.

“We were told to run our offense and try for the shots we needed to get,” Dunn said of his third.

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