Girls' basketball: Thornton Academy edges Sanford in battle of top Class AA South teams

Jan. 7—SACO — The undefeated start to the season continued for the Thornton Academy girls' basketball team Saturday. But the Golden Trojans had to pass a stiff test to keep their perfect record intact.

Led by 22 points from junior Addisen Sulikowski and 14 from senior Jessica Dow, Thornton improved to 8-0 with a 55-47 victory over Sanford — one that didn't come easily to a team that has been able to coast for much of the season's first half.

"Honestly, I think this is what we need," Sulikowski said. "Most of our games have been 20-plus blowouts. ... When we're in situations like this, our team is good at keeping our composure. We don't freak out."

Each of Thornton's first five wins came by 18 or more points.

"There are definitely a lot of areas we've got to clean up, for sure," Coach Eric Marston said. "I'm really proud that when things got tough, we didn't fold. We fought back and dug in."

Sanford (5-3), a young team looking to prove itself as a Class AA contender, challenged Thornton during a strong start and spirited comeback attempt, but a five-point third quarter doomed its chances. Junior Julissa McBarron led the Spartans with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and senior Riley Hebler scored 12.

"Defensively, we showed that we can play with anyone," said Coach Rossie Kearson, whose team has two seniors. "The biggest hurt for us was free throws. We didn't shoot free throws very well. I think if we do, we're probably lucky enough to pull one out and steal one here."

Even after Sanford's deficit reached double digits in the third quarter, the Spartans kept up the fight. A pair of McBarron free throws made it 51-46 with 2:32 to play, but a Sadie Sevigny 3-point attempt that would have made it a two-point game with just under two minutes left went in and out.

"Sanford hasn't always been the team that everyone's like, 'Oh my goodness, we're playing Sanford,'" McBarron said. "I feel like this year, we're changing that stereotype."

Sanford came out fast, taking an 18-12 first-quarter lead behind eight points from McBarron. Claudia Pelletier's three-point play ended a 15-5 Sanford run, however, and Sulikowski's 14 points in the first two quarters helped the Trojans battle back into a 31-31 tie by halftime.

"You just have to spark it, and the whole team feeds off each other," Sulikowski said. "It could be me, Kylie (Lamson), Jess (Dow), Hannah (Cook), Emily (Coleman), it just depends who it is that game."

Sulikowski also had a game-high 13 rebounds.

"She just has a motor that doesn't stop," Marston said. "She gives 100 percent effort every game."

The Spartans stalled in the third. After a McBarron basket, Sanford went more than six minutes without a point, allowing Thornton, which hadn't led since the midway point of the first quarter, to build a 45-33 advantage.

"We went to a little bit of a different look defensively, with more of a trapping zone," Marston said. "It was a combination, they had some of their better shooters get some good looks and they didn't fall."

Sanford went 0 for 11 from the field and turned the ball over five times during the dry spell.

"I wouldn't say (we came out) flat," Kearson said. "We just couldn't get some shots to fall."

Sanford fought back, aided by Thornton's miscues down the stretch, but the Trojans held on.

"Coming into this game, we knew that they were our biggest competition," Dow said. "Going through adversity in this game, we really had to persevere. ... We knew we needed to trust each other."

It wasn't perfect — Thornton committed seven turnovers in the fourth — but Marston said the experience will help.

"We knew it would be a dogfight," he said. "It's nice to have some of those tense situations down the stretch so we know how to react to them better."