Shorthanded Northwestern boys again can’t solve Southwest Livingston in CLAA title game

By PAUL STURM, LCL Sports Editor
Having driven between or past multiple Southwest Livingston defenders as he slashed from the right wing across the lane, freshman Trey Stockwell of the Mendon: Northwestern Eagles watches as his awkward shot attempt banks off the window on its way to dropping through for a second-half basket during last Thursday's championship game of the 2021 Carroll-Livingston Activity Association Tournament. While Southwest claimed the crown with a 57-45 victory, Stockwell and senior teammate Isaac Zahner (21) were among the five players selected to the boys' Bob Carter Memorial All-tournament team.

By PAUL STURM, LCL Sports Editor

TINA — The Mendon: Northwestern High School Eagles again were surprisingly pesky as, for the second year in a row, they tried to pull off a significant surprise and win the title of the Carroll-Livingston Activity Association basketball tournament without the services of their best player – injured senior post player Hunter Stockwell, but ultimately came up short last Thursday.

Southwest Livingston’s Wildcats, who had gone 23 years between titles before winning it over Northwestern 65-46 last year, used a 10-2 run late in the third quarter and at the start of the fourth and a 7-0 spurt in the middle of the fourth to subdue the determined Eagles 57-45 in this year’s rematch.

NHS head coach Mike Kahn indicated to the LCL afterward that the injured elder Stockwell was held out of the conference tournament as a precaution to make sure he'd be available for at least some district tournament play.

The Eagles are the top seed in the Class 1 District 12 Tournament which began last Saturday. After having a first-round bye, they are slated to play their semifinal game at home tonight at 6 p.m. against either Tina-Avalon or Brunswick.

The duel of the Nos. 1 and 2 boys’ seeds was anyone’s to claim midway through the third quarter. Finally, Southwest’s Wildcats did so.

Following a close battle with rarely more than three points separating the squads through the first 22 minutes, the CLAA’s regular-season boys’ champion made two decisive moves.

The score stood 37-36 in Southwest’s favor after NHS’ Gannon Johnson followed his third trifecta of the game – from quarter-court on the left side, about 25 feet out – with a right-side drive to finish a transition opportunity at the 2:14 mark of the third period.

With SLHS first-year boys’ head coach Julie Bothwell, veteran leader of the school’s girls’ program, having just opted to “go big” with her lineup, the Wildcats (14-4) took some control at last by taking over in and around the paint.

Putting both 6’3” starting post player Morgan Anderson and husky 6’6” junior reserve pivot Remington Woodcock on the court simultaneously, rather than as alternatives to each other, Southwest Livingston closed the third period and began the fourth with a 10-2 surge which left it holding a then-game-best 9-points lead, 47-38, 20 seconds into the final frame.

Following Johnson’s layup that made the margin a single point with 2:14 to go in the third stanza, R. Woodcock scored close in and guard Chase Neptune finished off a fast-break drive not quite a half-minute later.

Although Zahner netted a breakaway layup off a loose ball to make it again a 1-possession game 52 seconds before the period ended, We. Hughes sank two of three free throws and Anderson putback his own miss after first rebounding an off-target R. Woodcock free throw to send the Wildcats to the last segment in front 45-38.

R. Woodcock then hit a stickback of his own off a Neptune miss 21 seconds into the fourth period to make the SLHS lead nine.

Even though Johnson nailed his fourth – and last – trey from the right wing with 6:40 to play, Southwest Livingston landed another series of blows which, by and large, settled the outcome. Once more, it was inside size and strength that Northwestern (17-3) could not hope to match without H. Stockwell in uniform that lifted the Wildcats.

R. Woodcock scored in the lane with a 6-footer with 5:40 remaining. After more than 80 scoreless seconds, We. Hughes was fouled again and made one of two at the line to recreate the 9-points bulge. Anderson’s right-block lay-in off double-teamed R. Woodcock’s dump-down feed from mid-lane created the contest’s first double-figures lead and R. Woodcock capped the 7-0 stretch with a press-break lay-in off Neptune’s feed. With 2:41 remaining, Southwest Livingston at last had things in hand, 54-41.

Statistically, pacing all scorers was Northwestern’s Johnson with 16 markers. However, only sophomore Trey Stockwell with 10 was able to join him in twin numerals

The champions used scoring balance to win. We. Hughes’ three triples led to a team-best 14 points, but Anderson, playing well at both ends – start to finish, was close behind with 12 tallies and R. Woodcock and Neptune provided 10 more apiece. MVP Warren, who wasn’t at his best after a big night in the semifinals win the evening before, chipped in another eight.

The tournament, which dates back to the 1950s, was completed in abbreviated format five nights later than originally planned after being idled by bad weather for eight days. To shoehorn it into the limited time frame before district tournaments tipped off last Saturday, the consolation bracket was eliminated and the eight quarterfinal-round games were played on the same night – four at traditional host Tina-Avalon School and four at nearby Hale.