By BRIAN JENNINGS
You don’t just win nine of your last 11 games by luck or coincidence. You win as a result of the time, effort, and learning you put into the game, and the Blue Knights have invested a lot.
“It’s about what these guys want to prepare themselves with,” said Southington coach John Cessario. “They ask for scouting reports and want to know who the other team’s best player is. When you get that kind of feedback, you are really looking at a core group that wants to be as mentally, physically, and game-prepared as possible.”
It seems like every player is contributing in some way, whether it’s on offense or defense. Everyone has a share in the team’s success and plays a vital role in every area on the floor. It’s all coming together for them now, and it showed with a pair of wins this past week.
The Knights qualified for the postseason for the second-straight year in their first season fighting for a spot in the new Division III Tournament, and Cessario still won’t admit that his Knights are “rolling,” because it’s not how you start…it’s how you finish. But he did say that he is looking at the postseason as an accomplishment for his players.
Along with Cessario, the team set attainable goals, and one of those goals was to make the state tournament and get the absolute best seeding they could. They enjoyed the experience of preparing for the defending Class LL champion of Hillhouse in last year’s state tournament, but now, they have to do everything they can to be the higher seed and maybe even a home game.
“They wanted this and prepared for it, as did the staff, so we’re excited that they were able to achieve a goal,” said Cessario. “My expectation is that they’re better today than they were yesterday. If we can do that collectively, we could be a tough out.”
The scary part about Southington’s success is that the Knights won five-straight games without their 6-foot-4 starting center, Tim O’Shea. He went down with an injury early in a game at Conard back in the beginning of January, but Cessario said that they hope to work him back into the lineup for the upcoming week.
“If we can rebound the ball, we can run a little bit more,” said Cessario. “But to have won five in a row without him is a testament to what these guys do to make up for one another. They know they have to pick up the slack on the rebounding, and we need to do more until that big fella comes back.”
The Knights will look to fight for better seeding in the state tournament this week with contests against Simsbury (10-2), Avon (6-6), and Wethersfield (9-2). Simsbury and Wethersfield are currently ranked in the top three of Division II and top four of the CCC. Southington is currently 9-3.
The Knights began the week on Monday, Jan. 22 at home where they qualified for the state tournament with a 64-47 rout of Platt. The game recognized the Southington Youth Basketball Association and the American Cancer Society’s “Coaches vs. Cancer” program.
The Knights held a 10-point lead at the half with 24 points in the first quarter and sealed the win by shooting a perfect 12-for-12 from the foul line in the second half, limiting the Panthers to just six points in the third quarter. The Knights went 13-for-16 from the charity stripe in the game.
Andrew Lohneiss (10 rebounds, 3 blocks) paced the offense with 21 points on a triad of three-pointers, making six out of eight free throws. Colin Burdette (5 rebounds, 3 assists) backed Lohneiss with 13 points and went 5-for-6 from the charity stripe. Jeremy Mercier was right behind with 12 points and grabbed a team high of 12 rebounds.
“We knew that they were a winless team, but we also know that records don’t really matter,” said Cessario. “They were able to really withstand a push by some very hungry guards looking for their first win. There’s a lot to be said for answering, matching, and surpassing a team’s aggressiveness, and we were able to do that several times.”
The Knights capped off the week by earning their fifth-straight win and largest victory of the season on Friday with a 60-42 triumph at South Windsor.
Going into the game, Cessario said that they knew South Windsor specialized in a 2-3 zone defense, and the Knights were specifically within a few of their zone offenses. The Knights made about 70 percent of their field goals in the first quarter, knocking down shots from the outside and elbows.
“We did an incredible job finding our open men, and we were able to capitalize in transition,” said Cessario. “We really did what you have to do against the 2-3 to become zone busters. When you can get a specialized 2-3 team like South Windsor to come out and play man-to-man, you definitely did some great things on the offensive end of the floor.”
The Knights held the Bobcats to just six points in the opening quarter of play, leading by 10 at the half. They only made six of 13 free throws, but still managed to can five of their six three-pointers in the first half and post 17 points in the third, limiting the Bobcats to three buckets beyond the arc and six trips to the foul line.
The Knights rode on the coattails of Mercier’s (8 rebounds, 3 assists) season high of 22 points, as he scored 12 of his 22 points in the second. Lohneiss (8 rebounds) backed Mercier with 17 points on three treys.
For this week’s box scores, click here: (southingtonobserver.com/2018/01/29/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-feb-2-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.