WINDHAM - You might say that the Windham Bombers have found their swagger.
That can't be good news for teams that will face the Bombers in the upcoming Division IV district tournament in Orwell, an event that could be called the "Windham Classic" because of their dominance.
Proof of how much the Bombers have improved came Friday night on Marty Hill Court in a 72-61 Northeastern Athletic Conference win over the Maplewood Rockets. The victory was achieved 42 days after the Bombers lost by 33 points to the Rockets in Mecca.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Windham’s Jared Taylor, center, and Maplewood’s Kevin Jones, left, and Nate Spitler, right, go after a loose ball during their game on Friday night.
Rockets coach Nathan Kish knew long before last night's game that he would be dealing with a different Windham team. That's why he warned his players about what they were facing on their trip to Portage County.
"I told my team, 'Don't for a second think that team is Windham,' " Kish said in reference to the December game. "They had a bad game against LaBrae, and they played bad against us, but they've been on a roll. I know they have a coach that is going to make sure that they progress throughout the year."
The win completed a successful week for the Bombers, who defeated the Bristol Panthers at home on Tuesday. Windham is now 9-5 and 6-2 in the NAC, placing it one game behind the Rockets (10-4 and 7-1) in the conference standings.
"They were undefeated in the league and we had two losses, so this was a game we had to have," Bombers coach Marty Hill said. "And we had to have it to prove something to ourselves. We played awful when we played them the first time. We didn't play hard. Really, from that game on, we've made improvement."
For the first 4 minutes of play, it looked as if the Bombers had reverted to their form of early December. The Rockets made three quick 3-point shots - two by Nate Spitler and one by Kevin Jones - to open a 13-2 lead.
Hill called a timeout that proved to be the turning point. Parker Rickey, who scored 28 points, registered the next 10 points, leading a 16-point run that put the Bombers ahead, 18-13, at the end of the period.
The Rockets made a couple of runs, taking the lead at 24-23 in the second quarter and 49-47 on a fielder by Ethan O'Bradovich in the third quarter. Stephen Kacenski regained the lead for Windham with a pair of free throws, and Rickey scored six of the next eight points by the Bombers for a 57-49 lead.
The Bombers controlled the boards in the first half and finished with a 39-34 advantage. They were particularly effective on the offensive end in the first half.
"We were up 13-2, and from then on they just flat out beat us in every aspect of the game," Kish said. "I thought they worked harder than we did. (Jared) Taylor did a great job of getting into the paint and getting by our defenders. They played very well. That's a good team."
Taylor finished with 16 points. Kacenski, who flashed a quick first step to get to the baseline, scored 12 points.
Jones led the Rockets in scoring with 20 points. O'Bradovich had 12 and Spitler scored 10.
The Bombers had a 57-52 lead through three quarters and were never in trouble in the fourth period. Rickey, whose aggressive play toward the basket resulted in 14 free throws, made seven appearances at the line in the fourth quarter. He was 9 of 14 at the line, while the Rockets were 2 of 2.
"We're playing hard, but we still need to be smarter in the halfcourt," Hill said. "Our style of play is kind of helter skelter, all over the court. Sometimes it hurts you at the offensive end because they don't want to slow down. We'll get there."
The Bombers made great strides in getting there this week.