Thornton Academy’s Will Mitchell dribbles up the court in the third quarter on Tuesday. ALEX SPONSELLER/ Journal Tribune

Thornton Academy’s Will Mitchell dribbles up the court in the third quarter on Tuesday. ALEX SPONSELLER/ Journal Tribune

SACO — The Thornton Academy boys basketball team was able to erase a late deficit to top the visiting Sanford Spartans 61-58 on Tuesday night.

Trailing 58-54 with just over three minutes to play in regulation, the Trojans would take advantage of three forced turnovers down the stretch. Will Mitchell hit back-to-back shots to tie the game, then Jack Pyzynski and Anthony Bracamonte would finish things off with three free throws in the final two minutes.

“We had to make shots but we also had to make defensive stops … make those rebounds. We did that and we were able to stop them a couple times, score a couple times and eventually it went our way,” said TA coach Bob Davies of the final three minutes.

TA got off to a fast start in this one and took a 21-8 lead after one quarter of play. However, Sanford forward Leyton Bickford would catch fire and score 15 points in the second quarter then 10 in the third to give Sanford the 48-46 lead heading into the final quarter.

“He’s a good ballplayer. He’s tall, long, can handle the ball. It’s a difficult matchup,” said Davies of Bickford.

“He’s our biggest guy, he’s a hard worker, and he’s a guy that we’re going to need to play like that every night if we want to be a good team in this league,” said Sanford coach Nick Martin.

The Spartans also switched up their defensive gameplan after the first quarter, and were pleased with the results.

“(Bracamonte) was tough to guard and he was getting to the middle of the floor and was creating easy looks for them. We changed our defense and once our defense starting getting stops our offense came after that,” said Martin.

Adam Lovejoy would hit two 3-pointers coming off the bench early in the fourth to give TA the lead, but Sanford would go on a 7-0 run to retake the lead before falling in the end.

TA has many new faces leading the way so far in 2017-18, and Davies has been pleased with their progress and the way they battled late in the game.

“It’s good. It’s a close game and you learn how to win, learn things you should do differently. We made some key free throws down the stretch so that was good,” said Davies. “We’re learning — we’re learning on the fly. So far so good.”

Mitchell led TA with 16 points while Pyzynski added 12. Bickford led Sanford with a game-high 29 points while Mat Romano chipped in 10 and Carson Bickford eight.

TA improves to 3-0 on the year, while Sanford drops to 0-3.

Despite the rough start, the young Spartans have been grinding as they have faced top teams like TA and Scarborough.

“I don’t know if it’s going to get any easier, this whole conference is so tough. As a young team we’re learning how to play in close games, we needed a close game like this and the more close games we can be in now, the better it will be for our team in the long run,” said Martin.

The Spartans will look to get on the right track against rival Massabesic on Thursday, and hope to learn from these tough matchups.

“We’re a young team and it was good for us to be in a close game, but we have to smarter down the stretch,” said Martin. “There were some possessions where we took quick shots, we want to be smarter. That’s part of being a young team and something we know we have to get better at.”

— Associate Sports Editor Alex Sponseller can be reached at [email protected] or at 282-1535 ext. 323. Follow the Journal Tribune Sports Department on Twitter @JournalTsports.

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