WINDHAM—Nick Curtis turned in a ferocious performance vs. visiting Scarborough on Thursday night, Feb. 1: Curtis barreled all over the court, dishing and driving and scoring and drawing fouls on his way to a 21-point game-high. The Eagles’ defense likewise did its job, holding Stormer Nick Fiorillo – also among the best around – to 15 and helping to secure a major Windham W, 55-50.
“They’re all big wins,” Curtis said, asked if taking down the Storm was the Eagles’ most important victory of the season so far. “We need every win, really.”
“Right now it is,” Windham head coach Chad Pulkkinen said, asked the same question. “Because we want to be playing our best basketball in February. It was a testament to this group; we’ve had some ups and downs in the past couple weeks.”
“That’s a great team we just beat,” Pulkkinen said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re in the Championship for the South side. We just got off the mat and came fighting tonight, and it worked for us.”
“We were just going to play our game of basketball,” Scarborough head coach Phil Conley said. “We were 13-3 going in, so we weren’t going to change a lot. We knew they had two really, really good scorers, and for the most part, you’re not going to hold [Curtis and Mike Gilman] down. But I thought we did a pretty good job defensively on them – until the fourth quarter.”
The Storm got on the board first – Tyler Gobeil did the honors – but only after both teams blew their first few possessions on missed shots. Scarborough’s Reece Lagerquist followed Gobeil up with a two, but saw it waved off, and Eagle Mike Gilman followed Lagerquist up with a three for an early Windham lead.
The teams traded that lead back and forth for the next few minutes: After Fiorillo knocked down a pair of frees to make it 4-3, Windhamite Nate Watson drained a two. Fiorillo grabbed an offensive rebound and two, and Curtis hashed three-for-three from the line. Lagerquist added a two to even things up at 8-8; Gilman dropped in a baseline three for 11-8; Stormer Morgan Pratt stole from Eagle Cam Brown on a fast break, ultimately leading to a Brian Austin three. 11-11 after one.
The Eagles kicked off the second with a fairly lengthy possession that ended in…nothing. Fiorillo, however, quickly capitalized for the Storm, when they regained control. Curtis then hit two from the line – he was eight-for-eight on frees, all told – before Lagerquist and Jaquane Seme combined for consecutive Scarborough buckets and the evening’s fattest lead so far, 17-13. Lagerquist shortly extended that a bit further, hitting another two and ratcheting the scoreboard to 21-15.
The many Eagles fans in the house may’ve begun to feel a little nervous, then. The Storm appeared on the verge of inching further and further out front, and while Windham had picked up some killer victories this season – most notably against Edward Little (currently second in AA North) and Thornton Academy (third in AA South) – they hadn’t quite nailed down that signature triumph. Early in their schedule, they failed to turn in a consistent 32 minutes vs. mighty Portland (No. 1 in AA North), and fell by a big margin; a month later, they watched their big lead against South Portland (first in AA South) go the way of the dodo, and succumbed once more.
But if Windham could take down the hot-hot-hot Storm – the Storm had recently dealt Portland that their only loss of the winter – then they would leave no lingering doubts in anyone’s minds, and especially not their own, about their abilities. Moreover, they would solidify for all of Class AA that simple fact that this season’s ultimate outcome remains very much up in the air.
Scarborough maintained their six-point advantage for the remainder of the second. Curtis completed a three-point play to make it 21-18; Fiorillo answered with a three for 24-18; Curtis and Zoltan Panyi traded twos. Both sides botched their final opportunities of the stretch, Scarborough on a Panyi foul and a Fiorillo travel and Windham on a Curtis player-control foul. The buzzer squawked: 26-20 at the half.
“He just kept telling us to get back up,” Curtis said, asked what he and his boys heard from Pulkkinen in the locker room during the break. “We’re down, we just need to get back up.”
“What we talked about at halftime,” Pulkkinen said, “I think we were wearing them down on the offensive side. We were moving the ball, which we’ve been struggling to do, the last few games.”
“We wanted to stay aggressive with them,” Pulkkinen continued, “but also continue to limit Fiorillo as much as we could. He’s a great player. So it was just, ‘Stick to the game plan, and keep executing.’ We missed some layups in that first half – so the score could’ve been different (at halftime). But at the end of the day, we responded: We continued to raise our effort level, we didn’t drop at all.”
Curtis kicked off the third with an off-balance, fadeaway two – and followed it with a three, thus slashing Scarborough’s lead to 26-25. Gilman turned a steal into a drive for two, before Fiorillo and Windhamite Andrew Wing traded threes. 30-29, Eagles.
“We were just trying to get our confidence back,” Curtis said. “We had to get our confidence back, and bounce back from our last loss.” Windham fell to Oxford Hills 59-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 30.
The Storm surged from there: Morgan Pratt nailed back-to-back threes and Fiorillo hit one as well, putting Scarborough suddenly back on top 38-30. Windham tried to match the Storm’s outside shooting in that time, but their attempts – very noticeably – wouldn’t fall. Had Scarborough infiltrated the Eagels’ heads, disrupted their focus?
If they had, the Eagles nevertheless reclaimed their composure as the fourth approached. Curtis dished across to Watson for a two from underneath to close out the third, and Watson and Hunter Coffin combined to go three-of-four from the line to begin the fourth. 38-35. Stormer Brian Austin next hit a two, but Curtis quickly sank a two and a Gilman a three to knot the score and elicit an uproar from the stands. Gilman then grabbed a defensive rebound and fed to Cam Brown, who knocked down a two.
42-40, Windham. Conley called timeout.
When the teams returned to the court, Scarborough’s Paul Kirk – he would prove a menace to the Eagles for the remainder of the game – picked up his first points, fighting tooth-and-nail and collecting a two underneath. 42-42. But then Curtis dropped in a three, and Gilman grabbed another rebound (he finished with nine), ultimately leading to a Watson bucket.
Curtis remarked on what changed for the Eagles in the second half – and especially in the fourth. “We were driving to the hoop more, and dishing out,” he said. “That helped a lot. More than just settling, which we’ve been doing lately, for first shots and stuff. That’s what we’ve worked on all week, not settling.”
Now Windham were out front by multiple possessions. Kirk cut that to one with two more from underneath, but Coffin answered, turning in a spectacular, crowd-pleasing spin move up the key for a two.
Kirk powered in yet another inside Storm basket. But then Scarborough faltered a step. With the team set to inbounds the ball and begin a fresh attack, Gobeil fouled and control changed hands. Curtis took possession, and began madly dashing back and forth around the arc, manic Stormer opponents in pursuit. Gobeil fouled again; Curtis got set, play resumed – and barely a second passed before Gobeil fouled a third time, his fifth overall.
Gobeil had played clean ball all evening, but suddenly his time on the floor was up; visibly frustrated, he pulled a technical foul on his way to the bench. Curtis nailed those two shots, and because Windham were now into bonus territory, Gilman took two shots as well, though he missed both. Conley called timeout once more.
“It was just, ‘Stick to the game plan – of keep moving the basketball,’” Pulkkinen reiterated. “I think they were getting tired, chasing Michael, and Michael got free, a couple shots; Nick got out in open floor, and got some guys open, and we just ran and trusted each other. Really, at the end of the day, this team trusted each other tonight.”
“That’s what it’s going to take to win big games against good teams,” Pulkkinen said. “And we’re starting to understand that.”
Less than a minute remained. Pratt hit one of two from the line for 53-49, but Coffin pulled in the rebound off Pratt’s second shot. Soon, Seme missed a drive-layup opportunity for the Storm, but Kirk nabbed one free, bringing Scarborough within a single possession, 53-50. A spate of rough-and-tumble passing and defending ensued, and Coffin ended up at the line, where he added both shots. With 5.9 seconds to go, the Storm needed a three and a two – but Pratt’s last-ditch three attempt missed its mark and time ran out.
“They made their shots in the fourth quarter,” Conley said. “We didn’t make shots in the fourth quarter. That was the turning point.”
Gilman had 11 for Windham, including three threes. Individually, he and Curtis are both, of course, dangerous from anywhere on the court, but paired up, they’re particularly threatening. With Gilman sniping from the outside and Curtis dynamiting the lane, other teams’ defenses often end up stretched thin.
Watson finished with seven and Coffin six. Coffin’s playing time appeared somewhat limited, presumably because he’s trying to avoid aggravating a shoulder injury.
Wing and Cory Hutchison finished with a three apiece, Nazari Henderson and Eric Weisser with two each.
Notably absent from the court for the Eagles was Dierhow Bol, a critical rebounder and blocker (and capable scorer).
Curtis was quick to applaud his teammates. “Mike had nine rebounds; that helped a lot. Then we had Chris Naylor, Cam Brown, Hunter, Nazari, all them, dogging on [Scarborough’s] best players, over there.”
Kirk finished with nine for the Storm. Austin and Pratt tallied seven apiece, Lagerquist six, and Seme, Gobeil and Panyi each added two.
Conley remarked on Fiorillo’s performance. “Nick’s been solid all year,” he said. “I thought he had a pretty good game. He’s typically the guy that everyone defends, and he’s done a good job this year.”
But Conley spread his praise around, too. “Paul Kirk came in – especially in the second half – and really sparked us with some offensive rebounds and put-backs. Reece Lagerquist played very well in the paint.”
“You know what? We’re 13-4 now. We can’t hang our heads,” Conley said. “We’re just going to work harder in practice tomorrow.”
Windham jumped to 10-5 on the result. The Eagles, now ranked fourth in a strong AA North, hosted Lewiston (eighth at 2-15) on Saturday, Feb. 3, winning hugely. They travel to Gorham (fifth in AA South, at 7-9) on Monday the 5th, then close their regular season at home vs. Bonny Eagle (fourth in AA South, at 5-11) three days later.
Scarborough currently sit in second in AA South, though that positioning could flip at any moment, since they trail South Portland by less than two-tenths of one Heal Point. The Storm close their regular season at home vs. TA on Tuesday the 6th.
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CurrentSportsME.
Windhamite Nathan Watson and Stormer Paul Kirk clash.
Eagles Hunter Coffin (left) and Nate Watson team up to thwart Scarborough’s Morgan Pratt.
The Red Storm’s Reece Lagerquist looms over ascending Eagle Nazari Henderson.
Nick Curtis defends against Jaquan Seme, on the move for Scarborough.
Windham’s Cam Brown heads off Scarborough’s Nick Fiorillo at the pass.
Tyler Gobeil drives for Scarborough; a couple Eagles – Nate Watson (foreground) and Nick Curtis (right) – coverge on him.