By BRIAN JENNINGS
Momentum’s a beautiful thing. The Blue Knights have won their last five games to close out the regular season and are heading to the CCC Tournament for the first time in the four-year tenure of Southington coach John Cessario.
Who knows what’s next for the Knights in the postseason? But when you drop three-straight contests and win your next five, momentum is certainly behind you, and Cessario’s got them ready for what lies ahead.
“We want to play our best, and there’s strong possibility that the matchups are going to be against one of the four teams that we lost to in Division II,” said Cessario. “It could be Wethersfield, Bristol Central, Simsbury, or Glastonbury. When you get an opportunity to bring that, there’s going to be a little extra juice that we could bring to the table when we’re matched up against them.”
Southington finished the regular season with an overall record of 14-6 (8-1 home, 6-5 away), placing as runner-up in the CCC West Colonial Division with a 6-4 regional record and 5-1 divisional record behind NW Catholic (7-3). NW Catholic’s win at Conard (9-10) on Tuesday clinched the CCC West Colonial Division title, as the Knights finished as runner-up. Simsbury (18-2, 10-0) fended off runners-up Glastonbury (15-5, 6-4) and Avon (12-8, 6-4) to win the CCC West Patriot Division title.
The Knights will enter the postseason on Thursday when they play in the first round of the CCC Tournament. Southington is currently 10th in the conference.
Win at Hall
FEB. 12—The Knights began the week on Monday and picked up right where they left off from in the week prior with a 68-51 victory at divisional Hall. Southington swept Hall this season, defeating the Warriors, 61-48, in their first meeting.
The Knights led by nine at the half and kept the Warriors at bay by averaging 17 points a quarter, finishing the game with seven three-pointers. Ryan Gesnaldo paced the offense with a season high of 19 points on five treys. Tim O’Shea backed Gesnaldo with 15 points, and Jeremy Mercier contributed with 10 points.
“We were able to right some things with some players,” said Cessario. “For us to do what we needed to do without Lohneiss scoring made other people take steps forward. It gets them ready for the postseason.”
Win vs. Tolland
FEB. 16—On Friday, Southington capped off the week by holding on late with some last-minute, defensive heroics in a 53-48 victory over Tolland at home.
The Eagles trailed by two with less than a minute remaining in regulation, but a missed free throw on a one-and-one by the Knights left the door open. Following a missed jump shot by the Eagles, a Tolland player punched the rebound out to the top of the key where Andrew Lohneiss poked the loose ball away from a defender and came up with the steal. Lohneiss was sent to the foul line with 12.2 seconds showing on the clock and sank both free throws. The Eagles missed a three-pointer on the other end, and O’Shea capped off the win with a free throw after he was fouled with four seconds left.
“The formula was there for them to try and get the ball to 24 (Brian Geitner) and 21 (Cam Trice),” said Cessario. “We tried to employ a doubling on anyone resembling those two numbers, and when the kid gave it up, there were some guys that might not have been ready to shoot. That was the formula for the entire game, so we were happy to have it executed late.”
Mercier (5 rebounds) paced the offense with a season high of 20 points, shooting 83.3 percent from the field. Lohneiss (3 assists, 3 rebounds) and O’Shea (3 steals) contributed with 10 points each, as O’Shea grabbed a team high of eight rebounds.
Brian Geitner led the Eagles with 22 points after scoring 16 of Tolland’s 26 points in the first half, but was held to just six points in the second half with the help of heavy, man-to-man coverage by Cameron Clynes. Cessario said that Clynes was asked to deny Geitner the ball.
“When someone like Cameron Clynes is asked to do it again, he did it and got into that kid a lot,” said Cessario. “We knew we were getting in the kid’s head when he took a swipe at Cam in the third quarter. He was still going to the rim and making free throws, but we were kind of saying that he might be off his game a little bit.”
Win at NW Catholic
FEB. 19—The Knights closed out the regular season on Monday by earning their fifth-straight win with a two-point victory, 51-49, in overtime at divisional NW Catholic.
“Unfortunately, we started off very tight, and our play definitively showed it,” said Cessario. “When you’re looking at the four state championship banners, there are just so many things that can flood you in the ebbs and flows of playing in such an environment on a senior night at Northwest.”
The Knights trailed by nine at the half, but managed to rally back from the deficit and send the contest into overtime with 24 points in the second half, limiting the Lions to just 15 second-half points. The Knights held a five-point lead late until the Lions banked in a three and eventually knotted the score with 2.4 seconds remaining in regulation. The Lions had committed just two fouls entering the final four minutes of the game.
Lohneiss led the Knights to triumph with five points in the extra period, finishing the game with 21 points on a triad of threes. Mercier contributed with 16 points. Luke Fox led the Lions with 15 points.
“We just did what we needed to do in one of the biggest games that we’ve had in four years with these guys,” said Cessario. “It was one of the most intense games I think they’ve all experienced. It’s about the preparation for the postseason, and there was no better example of that than what NW Catholic offered.”