GROTON -- Marlboro came into Sunday afternoon's clash with just two wins on the season, but it sure did give Groton-Dunstable (7-8, 6-3 Mid-Wach B) a run for its money.
The Crusaders never trailed in the game, but they simply just could not put the Panthers to sleep. Groton-Dunstable hit just 12 shots from the field, and shot 69.2 percent from the free throw line to pick up a 44-36 win over a very young Marlboro line-up.
Groton-Dunstable freshman forward Gavin Keough led the charge with 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks.
Sophomore captain Corey Romich added four rebounds and 10 points. Both Romich and Keough went eight-for-eight from the free throw line.
"Keough is a very talented kid," first-year Groton-Dunstable head coach Greg Gillette said after the win. "He moves really, really well. He has an innate feel for the game, that's something you cannot teach. He was huge from the free throw line. I told the guys, 'we want to make teams grind.' This was a product of that. It was a good, hard-nosed basketball game. We played tough defensively again."
Groton-Dunstable started the first quarter with a furious 5-0 run behind a three-pointer by Romich and a driving lay-up by Keough. That was the Crusaders' largest lead of the first quarter as Marlboro refused to go away. Jose De La Cruz, Brian Short and Joe Cappadona all hit baskets in the Panthers' 6-1 run that drew them level at 6-6 with three minutes remaining in the quarter.
Groton-Dunstable held a slight 10-8 lead after one. The Crusaders caught fire in the second quarter. Groton-Dunstable outscored Marlboro 13-4 in the frame and took its biggest lead of the night on a three-pointer in the corner by Robert Parsons Jr. Drew Moore pushed the lead out to 13 with a fast-break lay-up following a steal on De La Cruz at half-court. The Crusaders led 23-12 at the half.
Groton-Dunstable's offense in the third quarter was sluggish. Marlboro capitalized on the Crusaders' inability to box out under the basket and converted on numerous chances between the blocks.
Marlboro managed to whittle the Crusaders' lead to six, 28-22, at the end of three. In the fourth, Groton-Dunstable was on the hunt for that decisive knock-out blow that would send the Panthers to the canvas for good. It finally came with 3:07 remaining in the game.
The shot clock flashed just three seconds when junior point guard Matt Tornaritis penetrated the lane from the left elbow, reversed directions and flushed a turnaround jumper to put the Crusaders up by eight at 36-28.
Tornaritis gave the Crusaders' fans a little encore performance later in the quarter with a nifty finger-roll finish at the cup to extend Groton-Dunstable's lead back out to nine. Marlboro converted on one free throw in the final minute, but Groton-Dunstable's precision passing crushed the clock to lock up the win.
Every game from here on out is important to Gillette's club if it wants to be dancing in the district playoffs later this month.
"We just go one game at a time," the coach said. "This was our biggest game of the year. Now, Nashoba is our biggest game of the year. That's the state of mind we are at right now. It is almost like you are in the tournament right now -- advance and survive."
Groton-Dunstable out-rebounded Marlboro, 25-24, in the win.