By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington boys basketball had plenty of new faces on the varsity floor in its season opener against Wethersfield last Friday. That’s what happens when you graduate five seniors.
The younger Blue Knights combined with the team’s senior leaders and helped the home side beat the Eagles 63-49 inside the Walt Lozoski Gymnasium. Coach John Cessario said it was good for the younger guys to get their first taste of varsity basketball.
Senior captain Colin Burdette led Southington with 17 points and four steals, and he also had six rebounds. Senior captain Ryan Gesnaldo started and didn’t score, but he pulled down seven rebounds. The efforts turned in by juniors Jared Kelly and Jake Napoli that proved to be just as big on opening night. Both scored 13 points, and Kelly made a key 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to extend the Blue Knight lead to 56-49.
“The first real varsity game for him,” Cessario said of Kelly. “We gave him a small sniff last year in our tournament run against North Haven. For him to come out shooting the ball confidently, it’s a coach’s dream when you can have a player like that come into his first game and do what he did.”
Kelly sank three of his six three-point attempts, and Napoli did work that didn’t go down in the boxscore but proved to be just as important.
“He’s a tremendous kid, and Napoli’s the same way,” Cessario said. “[Napoli] kept at least four basketballs alive that wound up some way, somehow finding our hands.”
Senior captain Adam Hunter and junior Billy Wadolowski each scored seven points, and Hunter added eight rebounds. The contributions didn’t end there for Southington, which also received key 3-pointers off of the bench from Joe Gaudio and Dylan Olson.
“It was such a lift in the first half, and we appreciated that effort as well,” Cessario said.
Burdette opened the scoring for the Blue Knights with a three-point play. He scored again off a Wethersfield turnover for a 5-0 lead, then Southington started hitting from the outside. A Kelly 3-pointer, his second of the opening quarter, extended the Southington lead to 14-7 with 2:30 showing on the clock. Napoli later drained a 3-pointer to send the Blue Knights into the second quarter ahead 19-7.
“You’re not a good shooter unless you’re confident,” Cessario said. “You almost got to have this I’m never going to miss mentality, and if you happen to miss, you have to have amnesia.”
An Olson three-pointer put the Blue Knights up 22-9 early in the second quarter. Wethersfield fought back to 23-18, but Burdette scored, then Gaudio drained a 3-pointer off a great look from Gesnaldo to up the Southington advantage to 28-18. The Eagles again pulled within five points, but a two-hand tip-in by Wadolowski and three-point play from Napoli sent the Blue Knights into halftime ahead 33-23.
Southington came out firing in the third quarter and established a 17-point lead, 49-32, on a foul shot from Napoli. Wethersfield scored before the end of the quarter, but the score was still 49-34. The Eagles were far from done, however, and ripped off eight more points to complete a 10-0 run and pull within 49-42 with 6:33 to play in the game.
“We put ourselves in a little bit of a predicament, but some of those ups and downs we do anticipate,” Cessario said.
Southington responded to the challenge and twice broke Wethersfield’s pressure for a Hunter layup. After two straight buckets by the Eagles, Kelly sank a big 3-pointer to put the Blue Knights ahead 56-49. Despite some struggles at the foul line at the end (13-of-26 overall), Southington was able to close out the win.
“We handled their pressure very well,” Cessario said. “I think we only had two turnovers all game when it came to their full-court looks, and my concern was why we weren’t attacking it a little bit more. I think that might have been a first night kind of a thing.”
Up next: The Blue Knights faced a major challenge from senior-laden Glastonbury on Tuesday at home. Southington is at Farmington on Friday at 6:45 p.m.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com