Published DateGILFORD — Although Gilford High School boys' varsity basketball team had built a season record of 12 wins, one loss as of last week, observers of Division III basketball weren't sure if the Golden Eagles were truly among the state's heavyweights or if the team's power was illusory. Although Gilford had amassed a pile of wins, they were all against teams which proved to be among the division's weaker opponents. The one winning team they had faced, Berlin, had resulted in a lop-sided loss for Gilford on January 22.
When the 10-3 Somersworth came to Gilford High on Thursday of last week, the Golden Eagles had the chance to put an exclamation point next to its record. And, like a good team will, Gilford seized the opportunity, earning a 52-47 overtime win to improve to 13 wins, one loss, and finding itself one of four teams in the division with only a single defeat in the regular season. With four games left until the post-season, Gilford is joined by Berlin, Conant and Newport in a tie for the best regular-season record.
Gilford coach Chip Veazey isn't making any brash predictions about the Golden Eagles taking the first seed in the playoffs. "I think we'll have a tough time getting that," he said. Gilford has the 10-4 Prospect Mountain team yet to face, a squad that beat Gilford in the Lakes Region Holiday Tournament, a loss that doesn't have a bearing on the NHIAA regular season. The Golden Eagles will then close out the season by traveling to Somersworth, a team that will likely remember dropping an overtime decision to Gilford and will be hungry to even the score.
Thursday's game saw the Golden Eagles come out cold, something which Veazey said has been an unfortunate Gilford trait this year. "We got off to a slow start, they came right after us," said Veazey, and Gilford was playing on its heels in the first quarter. However, the game also featured another Golden Eagle charateristic. "We've been pretty resilient this year," Veazey said. By halftime, Gilford had fought back to a one-point lead.
The game was far from over, though, a fact ensured by Somersworth's Drew Francoeur, who would go on to score 32 points that night. "They had an outstanding performance by their best player... We just didn't have an answer for him."
Gilford found itself down by two with less than two minutes to play, when a Somersworth player opened the door by committing first a penalty, then a technical foul, giving Gilford four free throws and the chance to take a late-game lead. Sam Preston hit one of two, and shooting the technical free throws, Josh Joyce also converted one of two opportunities, tying the game and ultimately forcing overtime. Veazey said his players continued to make their free throws in the extra period, helping to secure the win.
Gilford was led by some of its regular contributors, such as sophomores Kaleb Orton, who Veazey said played well until leaving the game with an injury in the fourth quarter, and Joyce, who has impressed his coach all year. "He was solid again," said Veazey. Late in the game, he said, Dave Sykie made a couple of important baskets to keep the Golden Eagles in contention.
For Veazey, who has coached Gilford High School basketball for about three decades, it isn't easy to compare this years team to those of the past, such as the group that won the state championship in 2004. "We've had a lot of good years, they're all different, the kids are all different, it's hard to say until it's all over."
He can see areas for improvement, namely, team defense, rebounding and broader distribution of offensive production. However, his squad this year has some of the intangibles, such as team chemistry and attitude, which are traits all of his good teams have had. And, after taking down Somersworth, his team can add credibility to its list of attributes. "It gives us a little more credibility," Veazey said about the win. "We're doing really well, considering nobody considered us to be a pre-season favorite." And yet, if the Golden Eagles can win the next four games, they'll be the team to beat in the post-season.