Bristol gets even with league win at Windham

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Bristol’s Bryan Gabrielson, right, tries to get past Mason Angle of Windham Friday night during the Panthers’ 74-56 win over the Bombers at Windham.

WINDHAM — Craig Giesy and Marty Hill stood at center court as the bright, white lights shone from the scorer’s table behind them — displaying block Windham Bombers in yellow.

The two coaches shook hands and talked as the atmosphere built around them at Marty Hill Court.

TV cameras were around the Windham High School basketball venue, showing the capacity crowd squeezed in the yellow and black bleachers on either side. The MyYTV Game of the Week came to the Portage County town for what was posed as a battle for the Northeastern Athletic Conference Stars Division lead. Two of the area’s best Division IV squads going head to head once again.

It was a tournament-like atmosphere from the tip with both Bristol and Windham fans filling the air with emphatic noise.

This was a Windham team which overcame a double-figures deficit at Bristol to give the Panthers one of their two losses. The other Bristol loss was against LaBrae.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Bristol’s Gage Elza, right, passes to a teammate being guarded by Windham’s Eric Park, center. Windham’s Phillip Maiorca is also pictured.

The Bombers came out to the Van Halen song “Jump,” but it was Bristol which beat Windham to the jump in the first quarter. The Panthers rolled to a 74-56 victory to secure a share of the NAC Stripes title — a seventh straight crown for Bristol.

Lordstown plays Windham later this season to make up a game from Feb. 2. If the Bombers win that game, they split the NAC Stripes with the Panthers.

Things started to unravel for the Bombers (16-3, 12-1) as Matt Church buried a 3 with 2:40 left in the first quarter for an 18-7 Bristol lead. Church had 10 points. He got the assist from Gage Elza, who had five of the team’s 14 assists. Elza added 11 points.

Windham’s leading scorer, Blaze Angle, picked up his second foul with a minute remaining in the first quarter. He finished with 12 points, but fouled out with 7 minutes left in the game.

“You’ve got to play hard, but you have to play smart,” said Hill, whose team had an eight-game winning streak snapped. “We didn’t do that in the beginning of the game and that cost us. From there, they just took it.”

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Bristol’s Tommy Donadio, right, guards Windham’s Phillip Maiorca.

Bristol’s Bobby Evan, a transfer from Maplewood who sat out the first half of the season due to transfer rules has been getting adjusted to the Panthers’ system, slowly, but surely.

Friday, he had eight of his 21 points in the first quarter as Bristol led 23-11 after one.

Giesy said Evan is the team’s vocal leader and can play the point guard through the post, a valuable asset to the Panthers squad.

Evan could only sit and watch as Windham rallied for a win in Bristolville last time around.

The 6-foot-2 senior took matters in his own hands, driving to the basket and grabbing 10 rebounds.

“Even when I was at Maplewood, it’s a great atmosphere in here, great basketball town,” Evan said. “When we played them the first time, it was hard sitting there, not being able to help. I was definitely looking forward to this game with these guys. They make it a lot easier on me, ton of fun to play with. I got the best teammates in the world.”

Bristol (16-2, 12-1) shot 15 of 24 in the first half and 27 of 46 in all four quarters. The Panthers, who won their 11th-straight game, had good ball distribution with 14 assists.

The Panthers exuded their will early and often.

“I thought our guys did a good job early of settling in,” Giesy said. “They did a good job of attacking their bigs and not just chucking 3s the entire first half.”

Bryan Gabrielson had 10 of his game-high 23 points in the third quarter, when it seemed Windham would make a run.

He admits he was a little more nervous than normal heading into this highly-anticipated game.

“It’s fun to play in front of all these fans, especially on TV,” said Gabrielson, who had 13 rebounds. “Two of the best teams in the NAC get to showcase their skills in front of all these people, people at home. It was fun.”

Tyler Collins took a pass from Phillip Maiorca with about 5 minutes left in the third and cut the Bristol lead to 48-37.

From there, Bristol outscored the Bombers 13-4 to end the quarter for a 61-41 lead.

Eric Park, who picked up two fouls early in the first quarter, added 10 points for Windham, which had its top four scorers held under their average.

The Bombers were 24 of 58 from the floor and 3 of 14 from 3-point range. Also, Windham didn’t get to the line all that often — only 5 of 7. Bristol was 16 of 24, a strange statistic for a road team.

“Having two of your leading scorers sit, it might not have made any difference anyway, but that’s not a good way to start a big game,” Hill said. “I’m not complaining about officials. I’m saying you have to come out and play good, fundamental defense.

“They’re hard to come back on because they have so many kids that can handle the ball, spread you out.”

Now he and Giesy may shake hands once again and talk pregame at center court later this season. That meeting might be in a Division IV Orwell District game.

Tuesday, Windham is at Mogadore, while Bristol is at nearby Garfield.

“This is the time we’re hitting our peak,” Giesy said. “I think we can do better. I think from four weeks ago, we’ve really improved.”