What a Stretch
Chieftains coach reaches 600 wins, By JAMIE NORTON Reformer Staff | Friday, January 19, 2007

TOWNSHEND -- Not too many teams have wild celebrations following their second wins of the season. Especially not when those teams have nine losses to go along with it. But 600 is bigger than either one of those numbers.

The Green Mountain basketball team finally caught the wild goose it had been chasing for a year and a half when it closed out a 46-42 win over Leland & Gray on Thursday. In front of a raucous crowd, the Chieftains went crazy after making Robert "Stretch" Gillam the first boys basketball coach in the state of Vermont to reach 600 career wins.

"Glad to finally have that monkey off my back," Gillam said after his team won for just the sixth time in two years after entering the 2005-06 season with 594 wins.

"We did some things at the end which I really feel good about, more than winning the game. We could have tanked it when they came back. When they got up, we said, 'We've got to do it now. We've got to get back into it.'"


Just as GM expected, Leland & Gray battled the Chieftains all the way. Green Mountain never led by more than seven points, and the Rebels fought back from a five-point, halftime deficit to take an eight-point

lead late in the third quarter. But the Chiefs roared back with a 12-0 run that carried into the fourth quarter and held L&G off for the final three minutes.
"We're playing hard," said senior co-captain Jon Stowell, who led all scorers with 23 points, including eight in the first quarter. "Our record's probably not showing that, but we're hanging in there. ... We came out strong, and let them back in it a little bit, which we're known for doing, but we closed the deal."

As hungry as the visitors were to get this win for their coach, the Rebels brought the same fire to the court. Both teams came in looking to prey on their one-win counterparts.

"I just won against Rivendell, and I thought that might give us a more focused sense of purpose on the court," L&G coach Paul Paytas said. "But it seemed like several of our players were in a daze."

The Rebels committed eight turnovers in the first quarter and had no solution for Stowell, who netted eight of his team's 11 points. But somehow, they stuck around and trailed by only three points heading into the second. Stowell's buzzer-beater off a long pass from Eric Clark gave the visitors some momentum heading into the second quarter, and GM capitalized.

Stowell led off the second quarter with a three-pointer, which started a mild 8-3 spurt that ended with GM ahead by seven, 19-12, with 4:32 left in the first half.

Green Mountain would score just two more points the rest of the second quarter, but Leland & Gray wasn't able to take advantage, as the home team netted just four over the same span.

"With 16 turnovers in the first half," Paytas said, "we were lucky to be within five at halftime. ... Our shooting from the floor, we were cold. And it was tough to get inside with their two twin towers (Stowell and Derek Adams). They managed the ball much better than we did down the stretch."

Leland & Gray scored the first six points of the second half to take a temporary 22-21 lead, but Adams' three-point play put Green Mountain back on top with 4:04 to play in the first half. Miciah Laughman fired back with a three-pointer, which sparked a 10-0 run that gave the Rebels a five-point lead with 2:05 to go in the third quarter.

A trey by Clark 10 seconds later put the momentum back in GM's hands, though, as they ran off a 12-0 run that carried into the fourth. That gave Stretch and his team a 38-34 lead with 5:15 remaining in the contest.

"We had to make our 1-and-1's coming down the stretch," said Stowell, who combined with Clark to shoot 7-for-7 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. "That's what did it."

Kyle Francois tied the game with 40 seconds left on the clock, and after Stowell put his team back in front with a pair of freebies, Andy LaCroix tried to go for the win with a three-point try with seven seconds left. It was off the mark, and Stowell hit another pair from the stripe to put the icing on Stretch's cake.

Gillam, who joined former Essex girls basketball coach Jean Robinson as the only other coach with 600 career wins, has no plans to hang up his green sweater in the near future.

"If I stay healthy, I'll keep doing it," he said, as his team improved to 2-9. "I still get a bang out of it. I pace the floor and stay up all night watching those loss videos. Tonight it'll be nice to look at one that's the other way. It's a lot of fun."