By BRIAN JENNINGS
Hall led by six points at the first break, but Southington slowly chipped away the lead. On Saturday, Feb. 14, the Blue Knight basketball team rallied for one dozen points in each of the final three quarters as they eked out a two-point win at the buzzer.
The 45-43 victory over Hall pushed Southington’s record to 6-11. Since scoring their first win in mid-January, the Knights have been turning things around. Southington is 5-2 over their last seven games. More importantly, Southington has clawed its way back into the playoff hunt.
The Knights need two more wins over their last three contests to secure a Class LL berth. The Hall win helped set up Southington’s final test.
“We got some stops late,” said Southington coach John Cessario. “Richie Rivera had some big plays defensively. Kyle Borawski hit some big shots. We really felt like we made big plays when big moments in the game needed them. We feel like it was also earned because we played so hard for all 32 minutes.”
Although they trailed 15-9 at the end of the first quarter, the Knights found a way to tie the game up at 21-21 heading into halftime. The Knights came out in the second half and took a two-point lead by the start of the fourth quarter.
Kyle Borawski (6-10) led the Knights with 14 points. Mike Pagano (5-14) and Nate Blitz (3-5) also helped out with 11 points each. Dan Brocke led the Warriors with 15 points.
“We withstood a bad shooting performance from the free throw line, but we only had nine turnovers in the game,” said Cessario. “And when we protected the basketball, we survived. I don’t think [Hall] is a one-win team. Any chance you can win on the road in the CCC is much of a positive. We were fortunate to get out of there with a two-point win and we just want to move on.”
Cessario said his Knights looked very comfortable in a one-possession game, which is a testament of what’s been going on in their recent games. He said that his boys didn’t panic and took care of the basketball.
The Knights limited themselves to less than two turnovers a quarter, especially with pressure that the Warriors attempted to put on them late in the game, which could be credited as one of the big benefits to the win.
“The lid was on the rim in the fourth quarter,” said Cessario. “They were missing, we were missing. The thing that we did well was manage our time. When we have the basketball and we don’t turn it over, it obviously doesn’t give anybody an opportunity to score. And we did that very well.”
The Hall victory came on the heels of a 55-50 loss to Simsbury on Thursday. Southington fell behind 12-6 in the opening quarter and traded baskets the rest of the way.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Knights looked to fight their way back into the game with big plays from key players.
Pagano hit a three-pointer with just over two minutes to go in regulation, bringing the Knights to within four points. Borawski converted a big three with 49.1 seconds left, to cut the deficit to three points. Pagano got through the lane on a dribble drive, getting to the bucket and getting fouled on a made layup that sent him to the line to bring the Knights within two points with the clock winding down.
“I never think the game is over,” said Cessario. “On every turnover, every kid needs to hear that the next play is in motion. Mike has a very brave and confident dribble drive. When he can find that crevice, he’ll try and do it and he’s been very successful at it. I’m very comfortable with him doing that, but in the event that three guys collapse, I would eventually have someone relocate for another look.”
Pagano (7-13) led the Knights with 21 points. Borawski (4-for-10) helped out with 10 points, and Blitz (2-for-9) finished with six. Christie led the Trojans with 26 points.
“I think we handled it pretty well,” said the coach. “When I started to see that little sway away from those little things that are going to go a long way when you’re trying to develop the program, we addressed it. For nine straight games, we’ve gone punch for punch with teams. That is a petal-to-the-metal philosophy and mentality for each of them to really get comfortable with. And it goes a long way.”
The Knights will have a chance to clinch a postseason berth this week, but it won’t be easy. Southington will travel to Newington (14-3) and then return home to Lozoski Gymnasium for a meeting with the Bristol Central (12-5) on Friday.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.