The first quarter of Friday night’s boys basketball game between Thornton Academy and Westbrook played out as expected. The teams had almost the same record coming in – the Trojans were 3-10; the Blue Blazes were 3-9 – and it showed in the numbers.

Five turnovers for TA; five turnovers for Westbrook. Eleven points for the TA; 10 points for Westbrook.

The second quarter illustrated the subtle differences, though, with one team showing why it could be playoff-bound and the other showing why it might be in the midst of a rebuilding year. The Trojans clamped down on defense in the second and outscored the Blue Blazes, 16-3, to build a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Thornton won, 56-43.

“In the first quarter we struggled defensively. We gave up some dribble penetrations, left our feet, and gave up some easy shots,” said TA coach Bob Davies. “We had to help on defense and when you help on defense that makes you very vulnerable to offensive rebounds.

“In the second quarter I explained to them that they’ve got to stay on the floor and make (their opponents) take the outside shots, then rebound, and we did a better job.”

When the Blue Blazes missed three straight shots on their first trip down the floor in the second, TA took advantage. Senior forward Nick Danton hit a putback shot to make it 13-10; senior guard Joe Crocker followed with a steal and lay-in; and then junior forward Mike Burchill (18 points) and Danton nailed back-to-back three-pointers.

“We went on a roll, got some good passes,” said Burchill. “It was basically a team effort. We all worked as a team and when we work as a team we get that victory.

“When we’re getting head, up by 10, our confidence is way up there.”

The Blazes cut the lead to eight midway through the quarter, but Thornton’s confidence didn’t waver. The Trojans closed the quarter with a 6-0 run, as Elliot Thomas hit a pair of free throws and Burchill knocked down two straight jumpers.

“When you score three points in a quarter you’re not going to win very many games,” said Westbrook coach Mark Karter. “I thought we actually did a good job in the first half, and I thought we got a lot of good shots, but we just didn’t make very many of them. You can’t win if you can’t score.”

The Westbrook offense got going in the third, but the problem was that the Trojans didn’t slow down. A minute and a half into the quarter TA increased its lead to 34-17 on a three-pointer by senior guard Justin Blake.

The Blazes cut back into the lead as Dana LeBel slashed for a lay-up and got fouled (he hit the shot), but by the end of the quarter – even after an at-the-buzzer lay in by Pat Walsh – the score was 43-24.

“We knew it was a big game coming in. Basically, our playoff hopes rested on this game and we came out playing OK and kind of faded off,” said Walsh, a senior captain who finished with four points.

Davies took advantage of the double-digit lead down the stretch by subbing different players into the lineup.

“Sometimes the only way you can communicate to them is if you sit them down beside you because in the flow of the game it’s hard, and they’re not listening and they’re worrying about what’s happening,” he said. “It helps when you can get a lead because that way you can rotate people in and out pretty easy so they can learn a lot.”

The Blue Blazes, as it turned, were able to learn from the game as well. They bounced back from the 13-point loss to beat Sanford, 52-44, Saturday.

“We’re a real young team. We’ve got a lot of really inexperienced players. They’ve worked hard all year and they worked hard the whole game too,” said Karter after the loss to TA. “They didn’t give up, which is a credit to them. So we’ll just keep working hard and see what happens down the line here.”

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