By John Goralski
Hartford Public shooters struggled at times in the first half, but the Owls entered the break with a two point lead. Hartford rolled out to a seven point lead midway through the second half, but Southington still wasn’t done.
On Friday, Feb. 15, the Blue Knight basketball team entered the game as an unlikely upset at best, but with three and a half minutes to play, Southington took the lead and with it came the hopes for a postseason berth.
“Obviously, we know that Hartford Public is one of the better teams in the state, but I’ve been telling my kids all year that, if we were able to put together a full 32 minutes we could play with anybody,” said Blue Knight basketball coach Bob Lasbury. “We had a really comprehensive, full game tonight.”
Just two days earlier, an upsetting loss to Hall seemed to extinguish Southington’s hopes for an eight-win season, but Lasbury said he wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. Even though the Knights were big underdogs in each of their final three games, he never lost hope.
“I always use the phrase that ‘Basketball is a metaphor for life.’ We had two choices. We could get down on ourselves or we could get back into the gym,” said the coach. “I thought that we had a great practice yesterday. We stayed focused. We stayed positive, and I think this is a lesson to be learned. When times get tough, you’ve got to work even harder to stay focused.”
It paid off against the Owls. Right from the start, Southington controlled the pace. Each time the Owls threatened to take control, a different Southington player rose to the challenge.
Hartford Public took a 22-20 lead with 1:27 left in the opening half. Chris Kelly answered with a fast break basket. Owl defenders forced a string of turnovers in the early second half, and an under-sized Alex Borofsky countered with 11 rebounds. Ted Shaw led the offense with four assists. Corbin Garry led the defense with a trio of steals.
When the Owls threatened to pull away for good, Kelly shrunk the deficit to one point with a pair of back-to-back three pointers.
“We were good defensively against Hall, but we missed a lot of shots. Tonight, in key spots, we hit those shots. That was the difference,” said Lasbury. “I think they’ve proved what I’ve been saying all year long. We can play at a high level of competition. We’re happy, and we’re ready to go.”
Borofsky paced the inside scoring with 20 points, buy Kelly matched him on the perimeter with 19. Shaw finished with 10 points. Stephen Barmore and Garry added four points apiece. The teams traded baskets down the stretch, but Southington took the lead for good with 10.3 seconds remaining.
Borofsky converted two free throws in the final seconds, and Southington escaped with a 59-56 win.
After posting just four wins last winter, Southington earned a return to the postseason with their eighth win of the season.
“I really think that it started around midseason last year. It was then that I started to become optimistic about our chances,” Lasbury said. “I saw the development of our juniors at the end of last year, and they’re now our seniors. The one question this year was who else was going to step up for us? Alex Borofsky and Chris Kelly have really stepped up. Tonight they all contributed.”
Lightning didn’t strike twice. In the last week of the regular season, Southington suffered a tight loss to Simsbury and a nine-point defeat by New Britain. Even with the losses, the Knights enter the postseason with an 8-11 record. The boys are tied with Newtown for the final Class LL berth.
Rankings will be released on Friday, and the Knights will be destined for a road game against a top contender. But that isn’t the point. For the first time in two years, the Knights reached their postseason goal.
“I knew that it was going to be difficult. I knew that we had lost some chances to get eight wins earlier, but I’m thrilled now,” said the coach. “I think that this will take that monkey off our back.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.