Boys Basketball: Knights lose 7 of last 10 but clinch tournament

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The Central Connecticut Conference can be a menace sometimes for any basketball team, and Southington has grown to know that more than anyone this season.  After starting the season 6-1, a record over a .500 winning percentage seemed inevitable.  However, the Blue Knights dropped seven of their final 10 games, including two separate losing streaks of at least three games.

Four of those losses came against teams with worse records than Southington, which goes to show that any game in the CCC can be a toss-up.  Despite this, the Knights finished 10-10 (9-7 CCC), which was good enough for a Division II and CCC tournament berth.

“Some teams are blessed with two or three seasons in high school basketball while others are sometimes only blessed with one,” head coach John Cessario said.  “We are lucky enough to have three seasons.  The kids have an opportunity to put everything behind them and start fresh, which begins with the CCC tournament.”

The Knights wrapped up the regular season on Monday.  Here is how their final week went:

Win over Wethersfield

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Feb. 18 – Southington started the game on a 7-0 run but Wethersfield climbed back in it before the end of the first quarter.  Connor Pace of Wethersfield presented problems underneath for the Knights, as he scored nine points in the second quarter and the game was tied at 24-24 at halftime.

Southington did a better job at slowing down Pace in the second half and Jared Kelly began to heat up from the field to create some separation.  Kelly scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half.

Wethersfield kept it close with some timely takeaways, but Southington hit nine free throws in the fourth to seal the win.

Dylan Olson scored a game-high 17 points to go with nine rebounds.  Jake Napoli had seven points and seven rebounds.

“It is really nice to see where Dylan Olson has come,” Cessario said.  “He battled through some injuries and he has been tremendous.”

Loss to Hall

Feb. 21 – Seven of Southington’s final 10 games were decided by six points or less, and last Friday was another frustrating case of being on the losing side.  Southington’s offense struggled in the second and third quarters, which gave Hall an 11-point cushion heading into the fourth quarter.

Then the Knights began to storm back.  Napoli and Olson combined for 16 points in the fourth quarter alone to try to lead their team back, and Hall missed five foul shots to keep Southington alive.  However, the Warriors escaped with the four-point win.

“We have really gone way from putting together a solid 32 minutes of basketball,” Cessario said.  “Against Hall, we did not come out ready to play.  We can flip the switch at any moment and match up with anyone, but it can’t wait until the fourth quarter.”

Napoli scored 13 for Southington while Olson chipped in with 11 points.

Loss to Cheshire

Feb. 22 – Again, the Knights tried to make a last-minute comeback after trailing for most of the game.  After being down 49-41 with 1:15 to play, Napoli led a 7-1 run to give Southington a glimpse of hope at the end.  His driving layup with 14 seconds left brought the game to 50-48.

Southington was forced to foul Cheshire’s Alec Frione due to the situation, and Frione cashed both shots to increase their lead to four and put the game out of reach.  Southington trailed by as much as 12 in the fourth quarter.

The Knights started the game leading 8-3 but Cheshire followed with a 13-0 run and never lost the lead.

Napoli had 18 of his 26 points in the second half.  Kelly had 12 points.  Olson was forced to sit out due to an apparent ankle injury.

Senior night loss

Feb. 24 – Southington celebrated its seniors and closed out the season with a third straight loss, this time to NW Catholic.  Like in their first matchup of the season, the Knights battled in the first half.  Despite scoring just four points in the first quarter, the Lions held a narrow 20-19 lead at halftime.

NW Catholic’s offense did a complete 360 in the second half, as they exploded for 26 points in the third quarter alone to put the game out of reach.  Napoli and Kelly kept Southington in it in the first half after combining for 17 points, but the duo combined for just five points during the Lion’s breakout third quarter.

Kelly finished with 19 points, including five makes from beyond the arc.  Napoli had 18 points.

The Knights earned the No. 12 seed in the CCC tournament and travelled to No. 5, Manchester, on Thursday (Feb. 27).  Manchester was one of two teams to score 70 or more points on the Knights this season when they picked up a 71-68 win on Feb. 4.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Spencer Dreher, email him at Sports@SouthingtonObserver.com.