By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – There’s this never die attitude that the Plainville boys basketball team emulates and when coach Marc Wesoly’s troops approach each game in that light, the squad won’t be winless for long this season.
Against Bristol Eastern on Thursday, Jan. 10, the Blue Devils trailed the Lancers 48-28 near the completion of the third period but never truly looked down and out.
And then came a late game run to almost tip the tide of the game.
A late 17-2 jaunt by Plainville chopped the deficit all the way down to five points with just over four minutes to play.
However, with Eric Fischer fouling out late in the game, Eastern resumed control and picked up a 66-50 win from the Thomas M. Monahan Gym from the campus of Bristol Eastern in a CCC South tilt.
In the end, that 16-point defeat truly didn’t indicate just how close the Blue Devils were from capturing victory number one and pulling off a major upset on the road against the Lancers.
Plainville (0-6) struggled mightily from the field and missed 31 of its first 34 shots – leading to a miserable 8.8 percent shooting clip – that stretched into the third period of play.
But credit belonged to the Blue Devils as the squad dug deep and ended the game by hitting 12 of its final 27 attempts, good for a 44.4 percent finish that almost saw Plainville draw even late.
And even as its shooting failed, the Blue Devils did just enough to hang around and prepare for some late game heroics.
“The boys fought hard,” said Plainville coach Marc Wesoly. “They didn’t give up. They could have easily given up but they fought back all the way.”
Jayden Lococo was clutch to open the fourth stanza and all by himself, went on a 9-0 run to make it a single-digit affair.
He came away with 15 points while it truly was a banner night for junior Austin Butler.
Butler was aggressive from the start, crashing the glass and making his way to the foul line, while zipping in a game high of 19 points.
Fischer didn’t have his best offensive game but chipped in with seven points and was his usual disruptive self.
His veteran presence on the floor was critical during that run while Timmy Dixon kept the Eastern defense honest with seven big points.
Veteran hand Shane Pugliese didn’t score a point but he pushed the ball up the floor, caused general havoc everywhere he played and even helped keep Eastern sharp-shooter Daron McKoy (eight points) away from the basket in Plainville’s box-and-one defense late in the second period.
Jeff Ziegenhagen didn’t back down from anyone in the game and that energy proved valuable late in the showdown.
The Blue Devils also got plenty of assistance from Alex Biron, Andrew Schumann, Nick D’Amico, and Nick Lestini as they all made contributions on the defensive end of things.
Plainville marched to the free throw line 26 times – making 16 attempts – and managed a stout 41 rebounds while only turning the ball over 12 total times in the fray.
Eastern’s George Taylor played his best game and came away with a career high 13 points to go along with five rebounds while Mike Belton chipped in with 11 points and eight rebounds.
Darieyn Tate notched 10 points, six rebounds, three assists, and two steals while Savion Wade – making his first ever start – nearly collected a double-double with eight points, eight rebounds, and capturing a game high three assists.
Ernest Wallace shook off a tough outing at Newington to ring up eight points and a team best 12 defensive rebounds as Eastern was hungry to get back into the win column off a disappointing 63-59 loss to the Indians the previous night.
Plainville tried to contain Eastern from the start but McKoy was firing away early and often.
He scored all eight of his total points over the first 3:09 of the game and off his final three-pointer, Eastern was in front at 13-6.
Butler hit for Plainville’s first eight points in the frame while Dixon drained a three-pointer but off four consecutive points from Belton, the Lancers led 17-11 after one period of play.
“We been talking about defense the last four days,” said Wesoly. “Our goal was to keep them under 45 (points) but McKoy comes out on fire and they had 17 points in the first quarter. That’s a lot.”
Plainville hung around in the second period but did not hit a field goal in the frame.
All the offense it could muster were six free throws. However, its defense did just enough to disrupt Eastern and limited its scoring opportunities.
“Nick D’Amico stepped up defensively,” said Wesoly. “Ziegenhagen stepped up defensively for us and that’s what we need. We just can’t be a five man rotation. We need to start coming in and contribute.”
Two free throws by Wade made it a 25-13 game with 3:39 left before intermission. However, two charity tosses apiece by Lococo and Butler trimmed the deficit to 25-17.
Belton ended the half with a put-back and Wallace zipped in a lay-up as Eastern went into the half leading 29-17.
In the third frame, Plainville’s offense still couldn’t connect from the field early. Off a 6-1 Eastern run, the visitors trailed 35-18 with 4:18 left in the quarter.
Finally, Dixon drained a much needed three-pointer – breaking a stretch of 14:02 in which Plainville did not hit a field goal.
But off an 11-5 run by the Lancers, a three-pointer by Wallace made it a 46-26 game and with 41 seconds to go in the third as Eastern took its biggest edge of the game.
And even as the third period saw the Lancers take a sizable 48-30 push, there were still eight more minutes of hoop left to be played.
Over the first four minutes of the final stanza, it was all Blue Devils, save a Plainville technical foul that led to two free throws by George, as a 15-2 fourth period jaunt was highlighted by a hoop and steal from Fischer and all those consecutive points by Lococo.
“The kid can shot the ball,” said Wesoly of Lococo. “That’s what we expect of him. He kind of got cold in the first half but he didn’t give up on the shot. Shooters shoot and that’s what I tell Lococo and Dixon all the time.”
“They did that and they kept us in the game.”
Off the Fischer swipe and bucket, the Blue Devils were trailing by a slim five point margin at 50-45 with 4:05 remaining.
But Eastern secured the game off a Belton lay-in and off two freebies by Tate, the Lancers led 54-45 with 3:20 left.
Plainville forced Eastern to the line for the remainder of the contest and the Lancers responded with 10 free throw makes, thanks in part by connections from Tate and George.
Fischer fouled out with 2:33 remaining in the game and off a hoop by Ziegenhagen and a Lococo free throw, Plainville ended its scoring on the night and dropped a hard fought 66-50 contest from Bristol.