By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Blue Knight basketball team is on a roll. With two more wins last week, they’ve won seven of their last nine games. More importantly, they are just one win shy of earning a playoff berth for the second-straight year. Even without their starting center for the past couple of weeks, they haven’t skipped a beat.
The first two games of the season are the only ones where the Knights were at full strength. Coach John Cessario said that this is what he loves most about high school basketball and his up-and-coming squad throughout the injuries. He loves seeing young guys grow into their positions.
“We’ve got a couple of other players that are right on the cusp of getting involved,” said Cessario. “They’re tremendous at the JV level and in practice, and we can’t wait to see them blossom. If a kid gets into foul trouble, I need Adam Hunter or Billy Wadolowski to come off the bench.”
Cessario said that he loves the fact that his team can grind out games on the road and still match each punch with a punch of their own.
“You don’t do well in the regular season or postseason by going through the motions,” said Cessario. “Our guys always play hard. We don’t make the right decision all the time, but we know that we’re there to help and pick each other up on the next play. What I saw this week was a grind-it-out feel, which will get us ready for the postseason.”
The Knights will look to qualify for the Division III tournament this week when they host Platt (0-11) on Monday, Jan. 22 and then hit the road for South Windsor (5-4) on Friday, Jan. 26. Southington is currently 7-3
The Knights began the week with a 52-44 victory at Newington on Tuesday, Jan. 16.
With the help of 19 second-quarter points, the Knights held a 10-point lead at the half and managed to overcome 16 turnovers and Newington’s 27 second-half points. Andrew Lohneiss (6 rebounds, 3 steals) paced the offense with 21 points and went 5-for-7 from the foul line. Jeremy Mercier (2 blocks) backed Lohneiss with nine points and attacked the glass with a team high of 10 rebounds.
“We knew going in that we didn’t care about records, as the old saying goes. We knew we were going to be in for a dogfight,” said Cessario. “I think our seniority helped us in the fourth quarter by hitting some free throws late. We do things at the team level and have guys that are doing some things to pick each other up, and this game was one of those points.”
The Knights capped off the week by earning their third-straight win on Friday with a 53-47 victory over divisional NW Catholic at home, but it wasn’t easy.
The Knights led by nine points at the half, but the Lions slowly crept back into the game. NW Catholic’s full-court press forced the Knights to commit numerous turnovers on consecutive possessions in the second half, as the Knights finished with 18 for the game.
“We haven’t seen pressure like this all year,” said Cessario. “So, it felt good to be able to fail once, but succeed twice. We threw the ball away three times out of bounds, but then there were times we went over the top and made extra passes for layups.”
The Lions came as close as three with around two minutes remaining in the contest until a pair of free throws from both Ryan Gesnaldo and Colin Burdette put Southington up by seven with just over a minute to play. The Knights eventually pulled away on a three-point play by Andrew Lohneiss and fast-break layup by Gesnaldo. The Lions missed multiple shots down the stretch, shooting just 38.1 percent from the field, and went 9-for-14 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
“You can’t break pressure if you can’t inbound the ball, and Colin Burdette was able to do a tremendous job,” said Cessario. “Lohneiss and Gesnaldo wound up taking it to guys that were trying to square them up. It’s a testament to their veteran play on the floor. There was no panic about them.”
Lohneiss (3 assists, 2 steals) paced the offense with 18 points and led the team on the boards with 11 rebounds, going 7-for-10 from the charity stripe. Mercier (8 rebounds) backed Lohneiss with 12 points.
Handling full-court pressure will certainly be a cause for concern for the Knights going forward, but Cessario said that he always tells his guys to step and meet the pass, in order to break the press.
“You want to misdirect a step, so that the pass can go in the opposite direction with a little bit more of a free ability to get to the recipient, meaning fake left to go right and fake right to go left,” said Cessario. “You need to throw a crisp bounce pass to the outside hand. Not every pass should be 60 feet long.”
For this week’s box scores, click here: (southingtonobserver.com/2018/01/23/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-jan-26-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.