WINDHAM - The similarities between the Windham Bombers and Bristol Panthers are striking, down to the last stitches of black and gold in their uniforms.
Even their styles of play are similar, which is to say both basketball teams like to run the floor at a tempo of children loaded up on sugar products.
When the Northeastern Athletic Conference rivals met on Marty Hill Court Tuesday, it looked more like an intrasquad game than a conference confrontation. It made for an entertaining contest in which the Bombers again proved why they will be a force in the upcoming Division IV district in Orwell with a 76-67 win.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Windham’s Jared Taylor (10) dribbles the ball as Bristol’s Johnny Simcox (5) and Aaron Williams (13) give chase. The Bombers won, 76-67, in a crucial Northeastern Athletic Conference game.
"It was a great high school game," Bombers coach Marty Hill said. "It was fast-paced action. Probably some of the turnovers were because it was so fast-paced at the beginning of the game.
"Bristol works so hard. (Panthers coach) Craig (Giesy) has them play so hard every game. If you don't play hard, they're going to run you right out of the gym."
The Bombers, who are 8-5 and 5-2 in the NAC, have won eight of their last nine games. The Panthers are 10-3 and 4-2 in the conference.
Action in the first half moved at the pace of a computer game. The ball was moved up court quickly by both teams, resulting in inside shots off dribble drives or kick-back passes for perimeter shots.
The Bombers received a solid game from senior guard Jared Taylor, who continually drove the lane and passed to Parker Rickey or Stephen Kacenski along the baseline. Rickey took advantage of the pinpoint passing to score 29 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. Kacenski added 18 points.
"He (Taylor) is a great ballhandler," Rickey said. "If we didn't have him, we wouldn't be as good as we are. He can bring the ball up on pressure. He's a great passer, and he has good eye on the floor."
The Panthers led just twice, both times in the first quarter. Their largest deficit was nine - once at 69-60 early in the fourth period and again when the Bombers scored the final five points of the game.
"Coach Hill has won so many games because he gets their guys to play hard," Giesy said. "He has good athletes; good players. That's a good team. They've started to hit their stride. They have a couple of guys off the bench that are starting to play well, along with their starters."
Brandon Lee scored 27 points for Bristol, which trailed 18-17 after the first quarter and 38-34 at halftime. Lee scored the first points of the third quarter on a short jumper to cut the Bombers' lead to two points, but the Panthers were never able to tie the score or take a lead.
Windham stretched its advantage to 56-48 through three quarters on the strength of an eight-point session by Kacenski.
"As far as us, we needed to contain the dribble, and we didn't," Giesy said. "Taylor did a good job of getting into the middle of the paint and creating for his teammates.
"I would say there were six or eight loose balls that were sitting there for anyone to get, and they (the Bombers) got them. Those plays changed the game."
Brad Kowalski scored 13 points for Windham, which had a 35-24 rebounding edge.
This is a big week for the Bombers, who host the Maplewood Rockets in another key NAC game Friday.
"Our kids have been improving every game," Hill said. "We just didn't play hard enough or smart enough at the beginning of the season, and now I think we're coming around."