By BRIAN JENNINGS
With time winding down in the game and Southington trailing by one point, Nate Blitz went up for a layup and collided into a defender in mid-air. Blitz hit the floor, but the ball tapped off the glass and swished through the net.
The Southington senior got up on his feet, dusted himself off, and walked to the foul line to complete the three-point play.
The third time was the charm for the Blue Knights basketball team (1-9) last week. After suffering two overtime losses earlier in the week, Blitz’s late drive gave Southington the lead for good in a hard-fought battle in Plainville.
“It was a screen and the right-angled pass that led to the success of that play,” said Southington coach John Cessario. “When you have a senior that tries to do everything he can to make that big bucket for our team, it was great to see that success collectively with two teammates that got him the ball. It really was something that we tried to get very often this year, and it was good to have him have it in a crunch situation.”
On Saturday, Jan. 16, Southington held off the Blue Devils down the stretch and came away with their first win of the season, 44-40. After Blitz sunk his free throw shot following the foul on the layup, the Blue Devils inbounded the ball over half court and called a timeout with 22.7 ticks left on the clock.
“We always take a pride in how to defend the perimeter,” said Cessario. “Priority number one is to not get beat over the top where you end up putting pressure on your teammates helping you. You have to carry your own lunch, and I felt all five guys that were on the floor did that.”
Following the timeout, the Blue Devils inbounded the ball from half court and attempted a contested three-pointer. The shot clanged off of the tin and Southington came down with the rebound, sending them to the foul line to run out the clock.
“Plainville did get a relatively clean look, but it just came up short,” said the coach. “But the one thing that you could never lose sight of is the fundamental of keeping the kid in front. It was five guys getting after it defensively.”
From start to finish, both teams seemed to battle for every lead change. Plainville held a one-point lead at halftime, 22-21, but Southington fought back to take a three-point lead by the start of the fourth quarter, 35-32. The Devils took a 40-39 lead on a three with 1:07 to go in the game, which lead to Blitz’s three-point play on the dribble drive with 40 seconds remaining.
The back-and-forth contest featured eight lead changes in the second half.
Blitz led the team with 19 points and went 9-for-10 from the free throw line, going 6-for-7 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.
“He really showed leadership, which is so important with such a young team,” said Cessario. “It’s been a tough road for him. He hasn’t started yet, but he’s earning minutes more and more as he begins to show signs of the Nate that we expected.”
Blitz was backed by 13 points from Jeremy Mercier.
The victory came on the heels of two overtime losses.
The first came on Monday, when the Southington lost in overtime to Hall (3-6) in West Hartford, 52-48.
The Knights held a five-point lead by the end of the first half, 27-22, but that lead fell to one by the start of the fourth quarter, 35-34. The Warriors outscored the Knights 9-8 in the fourth quarter, sending the game into overtime with the contest tied at 43-43.
Daniel Brocke led the Warriors with 22 points, while going 10-for-13 from the free throw line, but scored all five of the team’s nine points in overtime from the free throw line to help capture the win for the Warriors.
Mark Lindberg went 8-for-10 from the charity stripe as a part of his 20 points. Blitz contributed with 10 and Joe Koczera with seven.
The second loss came at home on Thursday when the Knights fell short to Conard (2-8) in overtime, 62-56.
The Chieftains held a slim 36-34 lead at halftime, but the Knights took a one-point lead, 47-46, by the start of the fourth quarter. The Chieftains outscored the Knights 5-4 in the fourth, sending the contest into overtime. The Chieftains went on to outscore the Knights 11-5 in overtime behind seven of Aiden Maloney’s 35 points.
Brendan Taylor paced the Knights offense with 13 points, while Blitz and Mercier both contributed 12. Mercier also went 4-for-5 from the free throw line.
The Knights will look to build upon their win when they visit South Windsor (2-6) on Friday, Jan. 22.