By KEN MORSE
The longest part of any journey is often punctuated by the phrase, ‘are we there yet?’ For the Plainville boys basketball team that journey has rounded the bend as they are headed to the state tournament for the first time in eight seasons.
When head coach Jim DiNello took over the program four years ago little did he know the road back to prominence would be an uphill battle that would certainly test the wills of this special group of young men.
The Blue Devils were coming through a tough stretch that saw them go a combined 10-70 over a four year span, since the last time they were in the state tournament during the 2010-11 season.
A promising 7-13 campaign in his first year at the helm gave hope to a group of freshman that would eventually change the course that they were on. It wasn’t an easy trek. Plainville went on to win just one game over the next two seasons but for this group of players the question was never asked, ‘are we there yet?’
They just continued to show up, work hard, believed in each other and never doubted their coach.
That determination built a character in this group of young players that molded them into a team that never quit. That desire to reach their goal of a state tournament bid was finally rewarded as the 9-11 Blue Devils celebrated a victorious senior night on Feb 19, treating the hometown crowd to an 81-38 win over Wolcott Tech at the Ivan Wood gymnasium.
The Blue Devils fans got to say farewell to this group of seniors led by Brady Callahan, Sam Lestini, Dane Stephens and Ryan Snyder along with Pierre Ramirez, Ben Dougherty and Peyton Warnat. Prior to the start of the contest Plainville also celebrated the careers of senior cheerleaders Sydni Spencer, Marlee Susco and Kaylee Lamothe along with Grace Perrotti, Cheyenne Gregory and Callice Donahue.
“It feels really good to have achieved our goal of making the state tournament,” said Callahan, a three sport athlete (baseball, basketball, football) and a three-time All-conference honoree in football. We have been working hard all season. We have been playing together since we were young and we stuck it out through some tough seasons but never quit and it paid off.”
Earlier in the season, Plainville showed what they are made of being in every game they played regardless of their opponent. Four times the Blue Devils came up on the short end losing by a combined total of 16 points. Two of those setbacks came on the final possession of the game.
Along the way came successes including winning the Patriot Division South title in the CCC. Being able to hang a banner on the wall of the Ivan Wood Gymnasium allows this special group of seniors to leave something behind to commemorate their determined effort.
“We all worked together to make this come alive,” said Snyder. “Even after some tough losses we just had to keep on believing in ourselves and keep going. To make it into the state tournament in our senior year makes it all that more special.”
Warnat (12 points, 8 rebounds) come out on fire hitting on eight of the first nine points for the Blue Devils. Stephens (14 points) knocked down a three and Plainville was just getting started holding a 19-14 lead going into the second quarter.
The Blue Devils blistered the nets dropping 30 points through the cylinder in the second stanza to take a commanding 49-19 lead at the half. Sophomore Alec Couture (17 points) showed that Plainville has some up and coming players to continue this run as he threw down three 3-pointers in the quarter to ignite the Blue Devils offense.
Plainville didn’t slow down in the second half with Lestini (8 points), Snyder (8 points) and Dougherty (6 points) along with sophomore Javan Paradis (7 points) pushing the advantage out to 62-33 going into the final quarter.
One by one coach DiNello removed his seniors from the game to a rousing ovation from the hometown crowd. Sophomores A.J. Lestini and Tanner Callahan teamed up with junior Louis Passaretti to give a quick look at the future of Plainville basketball.
“It means the world to me that these are a real humble group of guys,” said DiNello. “Every one of them has a different personality and brings something different to the team but collectively they all had the same never give up attitude.”
This was the first group of players that DiNello developed over their full, four-year journey through high school sports. “Watching them group up as young men to where they started to where they are now, it’s so much more than basketball,” said the coach. “These are life lessons and the true focus is on having them leave here as better people, that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”
The Blue Devils move on to the Division V state tournament that will begin the first week of March with pairings to be determined after league tournament play.