By Jess Thomas
Two Nashoba Hoops youth basketball squads from Stow faced off on Saturday afternoon and the result was a thriller that went down to the last second and had everyone on the edge of their seats.
The matchup was seventh and eighth grade boys, with the Stow Sharknados defeating the Stow Purple Thunder by a final of 60-59 at Hale Middle School.
Josh Stams of the Sharknados hit the game winning shot with less than 10 seconds remaining to secure the victory. Their team defense forced Purple Thunder to miss an off-balance deep three-pointer at the buzzer.
The Sharknados’ head coach, Travis Stams, was happy that his son made the decisive basket to improve the team’s record to 7-1 with two games remaining.
“It was nice for him to put it down at the end,” Stams said. “He’s a competitive basketball player and loves to win and I think he was pretty happy to have the ball in his hands for the last shot.”
Coincidentally, the Thunder’s head coach, David Ahlquist, is Josh Stams’ travel league coach and has coached him for five years.
Stams was on his game all afternoon, as he finished with a game-high 25 points, leading his team to victory.
But it was certainly not an easy victory for the Sharknados, with the Thunder ahead for the majority of the contest.
Led by the duo of Andrew and Alex Ahlquist, the Thunder took a 29-25 lead to halftime and extended that lead to 43-29 four minutes into the second half.
Andrew was called for a technical foul in the second half and, because of prior personal fouls, had to sit out for the majority of the second half. He still led the team in points with 19 (including 13 in the first half).
The Sharknados rallied around each other in the second half after falling behind by 14, with Stams and point guard Liam Smith leading the way.
According to both coaches, the Sharknados’ adjustments made the difference in this one.
“In the first half of the game, we were playing as individuals,” Coach Stams said. “In the second half of the game, the boys were playing as a team. They were passing the ball to each other; they were boxing out and rebounding.”
Coach Ahlquist said, “They [the Sharknados] made some adjustments because we pressed and we created lots of turnovers in the first half. They were able to turn it around.”
The Thunder did not make the comeback easy though, as the Sharknados still trailed 49-45 after a 16-6 run with six minutes remaining.
Andrew’s brother, Alex, along with teammates Mason Jones and Cameron Porter stepped up and kept the game close following the spurt by the Sharknados.
These four players scored all 59 points for a squad that only had seven players. In addition to Andrew’s 19 points, Alex had 15, Jones had 14 points and Porter finished with 11 (nine in the second half).
Coach Ahlquist said, “(Porter’s) a great player. He’s a hustler. He runs the floor, he rebounds and does it all. We had a couple guys in foul trouble and he stepped up.”
Coach Ahlquist mentioned that his team originally had 10 members, but with kids moving away and leaving the team, he is now down to seven, which is okay with him.
“These guys are all in shape,” the coach said. “They’re kids and they love it.”
The charge from the Sharknados was too much to handle, as Smith hit a huge three pointer that cut a six-point lead down to 57-54 with less than two minutes. He finished with 13 points.
“Liam Smith is an awesome point guard,” Coach Stams said. “You saw his nice three point shot there. He’s a great shooter.”
Josh Stams took care of the rest, making two layups to finish off the 60-59 thriller.
Each coach has the same mindset about coaching these seventh and eighth graders, with winning not being the primary focus.
“I have three goals,” coach Ahlquist said. “This is about learning good sportsmanship, learning the fundamentals of the game and having fun.
“We all want to win – we were trying like heck to – and the guys are upset that we didn’t win, but in the end it’s not about the score.”
Both coaches mentioned that it is an equal playing time league, with no favorites being played to specific players.
Stams was able to play 10 players, with seven of them cracking the score sheet. Sam Bolinsky was third on the team with 12 points, including a monstrous block in the first half.
Stams said, “This league is about learning skills. The goal is to get everybody from the beginning of the year to the end of the year to become a better basketball player.”
Coach Ahlquist’s team falls to 3-4 on the season, but in his seventh year of coaching and a solid squad to work with, it should come as no surprise if the team finishes the season strong.
“It was a fun game,” coach Ahlquist said. “Win or lose, it was a fun game to be a part of.”