By KEVIN ROBERTS
For the second straight season, Southington boys basketball advanced to the second round of the state tournament.
After a 50-27 first round home win over No. 18 Kolbe Cathedral on March 5, the No. 15 Blue Knights turned around the next night and faced a familiar foe, No. 2 Glastonbury, on the road on March 6. The Tomahawks won the lone regular season matchup by three points at Southington.
In the rematch, Southington trailed 16-14 midway through the second quarter but was a basket away from tying or taking the lead. The Knights missed on two chances, the first being a layup. The Tomahawks converted a 3-pointer at the other end to go ahead by five points, and the Knights never got any closer than three points. Glastonbury led by nine points at halftime and won the Division II second round game, 60-45. Southington ended its season with a record of 13-10.
It was the final game for Knight senior captains Colin Burdette, Ryan Gesnaldo, Adam Hunter and Jacob Flynn. Burdette, the lone All-CCC West selection for Southington, tallied 13 points and Hunter had four points while Gesnaldo and Flynn added two points apiece. Junior Jared Kelly led Southington with 14 points while junior Billy Wadolowski added 10 points.
“It’s not their record [21-4] that makes them who they are,” coach John Cessario said about Glastonbury. “I think it’s their seniority, I think it’s their physicality, I think it’s their schedule. They played the Waterfords [No. 1 seed in Division II], they played a lot of good teams that were going to test them, and they did what they had to do as a senior-laden team to get to this point. I think we went punch for punch with them in both games.”
Southington was down by 20 points entering the fourth quarter, but never gave up. The Knights pulled to within 11 points on two different occasions and kept scrapping until the final buzzer. In the end, Glastonbury and its nine seniors were too much to handle. Eleven of the 12 Tomahawks who played scored, led by seniors Jack Shea (game-high 15 points), Cameron Stiepock (12) and Aaron Latham (8). All three of those players were All-CCC West selections. Andrew Sullivan, another senior, was a defensive menace who blocked shots and tipped passes.
“It’s a game of swings, and against a very, very unforgiving team, you need every break, you need every opportunity to take full advantage of, and of course we didn’t do it,” Cessario said. “Take your hats off, it looks they look like they’re ready to go as a team. It’s got to feel good to be play at home and play as good as they did coming off of a tough conference tournament loss. It’s a testament to who they are.”
To get to Glastonbury, Southington had to get past Kolbe Cathedral in a first round game that was moved from March 4 to March 5 because of a snowstorm that dropped more than a foot of snow in some areas of the state. The Blue Knights were aggressor in the game and held the Cougars to just 13 points in the first half on the way to a seven-point lead at the break.
“We gave up 13 points in the first half to an up and down team, and with the presence that they have inside with a potential all-state player, you’ve got to feel really good about it,” Cessario said.
Kolbe 6-foot-4 senior Quinton Sneed was the focus of the Southington defense. Sneed had a game of 17 points and 24 rebounds last month in a South-West Conference tournament quarterfinal win at Stratford, but he scored just six points against the Knights.
“You got to give it to Hunter, Wadolowski, [Jake] DelMonte and a dose of [Jake] Napoli, who wound up taking a lot of pride playing a guy that was bigger and more athletic than him,” Cessario said.
On offense, Southington was unselfish and did enough to build a lead. At one point, Kelly tipped an outlet pass several times before corralling it, then found Hunter for a layup. On another play, an outlet pass reached Flynn in the left corner. Flynn managed to get a pass to the opposite corner, where Kelly buried a 3-pointer for an 18-9 lead and a Kolbe timeout with 4:18 to play in the first half.
In the third quarter, Southington really took it to Kolbe. The Knights outscored the Cougars 20-10 and established a 40-23 lead. Gesnaldo scored eight points in the quarter on his way to a game-high 16. Kelly connected for 12 points while Hunter added 10 points.
Southington’s lead was never less than 17 points in the fourth quarter, and it looked more like the team that had won the first eight games of the second half of its regular season. Some of that fire was still alive against Glastonbury, but not enough to keep the postseason run going.
“It is about the pass that you’re making and the shot that you’re taking, don’t get me wrong,” Cessario said after the Glastonbury game, “but there are some things that are going to make you work harder for people in your program if you respect them the way I know that these kids respect each other, and it was really, really shown in these last four or five weeks. It was an about face, forward march, and they did it soup to nuts, from seniors right on down to the sophomores.”
Kelly led the team for the season at 12.0 points per game while Burdette finished at 10.4. Burdette was the leader in assists at 4.4 per contest while Hunter had the top rebounding average at 5.4.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com