Boys are bracket-bound: Knights break three-year tournament drought

Tim O’Shea fights off a defender during an overtime victory over Bulkeley that clinched a postseason berth for the boys.

By BRIAN JENNINGS

STAFF WRITER

With only 4.1 seconds to work with after a Bulkeley foul was committed, an inbounds ended up in Brendan Taylor’s hands at the top of the key. He started a dribble drive towards the basket as two defenders collapsed on him and kicked the ball out to Mercier near the baseline.

With his back up against the three-point line, Mercier drained a deep, contested two-point jump shot at the buzzer and was mobbed by his teammates off the court.

“I saw Brendan driving and thought to help him out if he got covered,” said Mercier. “This other guy came out and made a nice attempt at it when he altered it a little bit. But we take a lot of shots every day.”

With the victory, Southington qualified for the Class LL tournament for the first time since 2013. It was the first time the team made the state tournament in Coach John Cessario’s three-year tenure with the program.

Jack Herms presses a ball handler during an overtime victory against Bulkeley.

“These guys have put in a tremendous effort,” said Cessario. “We’ve dealt with a lot of cancellations and movements, but they stayed very steady. For them to win on an emotional shot like that has kind of been the story of the season.”

Although they had trouble shooting the ball early in the first half, especially from the three-point line, the Bulldogs still managed to lead, 20-17, at halftime. However, the Knights rallied from a nine-point deficit at the end of the third quarter and limited the Bulldogs to just three points in the fourth quarter to knot the score at 32-32 by the end of regulation.

The Knights played a 2-3 zone in the first half, but switched to a man-to-man look in the second half.

“In the first half, they started the game 1-for-7 from three. So I really didn’t want to go away from it,” said Cessario. “Our energy had us playing on our heels. We needed something that was going to pick us up, and sometimes, going man-to-man is a little bit of that trigger.”

Cessario said that the mindset of the team going into overtime was just to survive.

“It’s one thing to be down nine points in an 80-point game when you think you’re going to score in buckets, but we were down 29-20,” the coach said. “We constantly promoted that it was only three possessions, and we just wanted to chip away. Even though they hit the shot, I was thrilled that we were given four more minutes to play.”

With just over three minutes remaining in the game, Colin Burdette hit a jump shot to give the Knights their first lead, 30-29, since the first quarter. A Bulkeley three-pointer put the Bulldogs back on top by two, but a missed free throw with 34.9 seconds allowed Burdette to drive through the paint and float a teardrop through the net with about five seconds showing on the clock, sending the contest into overtime. The Bulldogs were called for traveling on a drive to the basket on their next possession with 1.5 seconds.

The Bulldogs quickly went up by five in the extra period, but a pair of layups and three-pointer gave the Knights a two-point edge, 39-37, with 15.6 seconds. The Bulldogs regained the lead by a point after completing a three-point play at the foul line from a dribble drive to the basket with 11.5 seconds, leaving Mercier just enough time to make the game-winning shot.

“We looked to set up something on the other side of the basket, but they were so quick to the ball,” said Cessario. “He floated out to the weak side, and the extra pass from our guard was what got him a rhythm jumper. He didn’t have to fumble it or bend over to get it. It was something that he was just able to catch and shoot.”

Mercier paced the offense with 10 points. Lohneiss and Burdette contributed with nine points apiece. The Knights went just 2-for-4 from the foul line in the game.

Win at Avon

FEB. 6—The clincher came on the heels of a 65-54 win over Avon on Monday that snapped a two-game losing streak. The Falcons trailed by one at the end of the first quarter of play, but took a four-point lead, 29-25, heading into halftime.

The Knights posted 19 points in the third quarter and outscored the Falcons, 35-25, in the second half, going 8-for-12 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.

Mercier marshaled the offense with 16 points and went 4-for-5 from the charity stripe. Lohneiss backed Mercier with 14 points on a pair of three-pointers and went 4-for-6 from the foul line. Taylor contributed with nine points and made five out of six free throws.

Loss at Farmington

FEB. 10—Southington couldn’t keep the momentum at week’s end, suffering a five-point loss, 50-45, at Farmington on Friday. The Indians led, 22-18, at halftime, but held the Knights to just three points in the second quarter after taking a 15-11 lead by the end of the first quarter.

Lohneiss led the offense with 18 points. Mercier backed Lohneiss with 10 points, and Burdette contributed with 7.

The Knights have four games remaining in the regular season, with three of those being conference matchups. The Knights are currently tied for 15th in the CCC and will fight for a spot in the conference tournament this week with games against Tolland (11-5), Conard (3-13), and Hall (8-9). Southington is currently 8-8 overall.

To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at bjennings@southingtonobserver.com.

Leave a Reply