By BRIAN JENNINGS
Missing out on last year’s conference tournament left them cold. It left a two-week gap in between their last regular season game and the first round of the state tournament, forcing them to fill that gap with a few scrimmages.
Going a couple of rounds in this year’s conference tournament was just what the Blue Knights needed in prepping for this year’s state tournament. Instead of scheduling a few scrimmages, Southington coach John Cessario said that that are only planning on scheduling one.
“It’s live action, and you kind of get to measure where your wind is, where your muscles are, and where you heart is in how fatigued you are,” said Cessario. “I feel like we’re in a good place. We’re lifting all week in preparation. We’re going to get succinct practices, and we’re going to be where we want to be in preparation for Berlin.”
As Cessario had stated, the Knights are looking to host No. 26 Berlin (8-12) in the first round of the Division III Tournament. They’re also looking at coming into the tournament as the seventh seed.
Cessario said that he is not looking at the Division III Tournament as a tournament because the second you look past a team, you get beat. They’re creating one-game tournaments and are looking to play their best in the one game that they’re guaranteed to play.
“If you can do that and contain other player’s and team’s strengths, you’re giving yourself a puncher’s chance,” said Cessario. “It is a benefit to being the seventh seed and having the first round at home, but we’re playing another CCC team, which is never a night off.”
Pairings for the state tournaments are to be announced by the CIAC by noon on Wednesday, Feb. 28. The qualifying and first rounds are scheduled to take place on Saturday, Mar. 3 and Monday, Mar. 5.
A hot shooting night from beyond the arc contributed to the end of Southington’s CCC Tournament run and six-game winning streak, as the 11th seeded Knights fell, 55-43, to No. 3 Simsbury in the quarterfinals, held on Saturday, Feb. 24 at Bulkeley High School in Hartford.
The Trojans led by six at the half, but the Knights managed to come as close as two of the Trojans in the third quarter. However, the Trojans pulled away with 33 second-half points, going 10-for-12 from the foul line and scorching the net from long distance with nine three-pointers. On the other end, the Knights couldn’t keep up from downtown, finishing with just a pair of triples.
Cessario said that the Trojans were uncontested from beyond the arc, and similar to a couple of previous games this season, the Knights didn’t do their job on the perimeter. The Trojans benefited from a dribble drive from their point guard that created space for these threes.
“Their guards are very adept to finding space on the three-point line,” said Cessario. “With what Ralph Gilliard was able to do against us, he found his shooters, and (Jack) McNally shot the ball extremely well.”
Andrew Lohneiss paced the Knight offense with 19 points. Colin Burdette contributed with 10 points. Jack McNally led the Trojans with 17 points, canning five of the team’s nine treys.
Earlier in the week, the Knights advanced to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament by pulling away late with a 35-30 victory at No. 6 Wethersfield in the first round on Thursday, earning their sixth-straight win. The Knights avenged their double-overtime loss, 64-60, to the Eagles from the first week of February during the regular season.
The Knights held a lead for most of the game with a four-point advantage at the half, but the Eagles never went away and rode forward Jimmy Sullivan’s (10 points) hard-fought points down in the paint all the way to the final minute of regulation. Juggling a pass that he stuck with under the hoop, Adam Hunter (4 points) put the Knights up by three on a layup with a little over a minute remaining. A Southington foul put the Eagles on the line at the other end, but a pair of missed free throws forced them to foul the Knights on five consecutive inbounds passes to put them in the bonus.
A missed free throw on the front end of a 1-and-1 gave the Eagles possession with 27.1 seconds left, but they succumbed to the defensive pressure of Burdette (4 points) and gave the ball right back to the Knights on a backcourt violation. Ryan Gesnaldo (5 points) capped off the win with a pair of free throws to put the Knights up by five.
For more in depth coverage, see our weekly print edition. To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.