By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington boys basketball has been playing as one unit throughout the second half of the season, and the results speak for themselves. The Blue Knights defeated Simsbury, 49-43, on Feb. 6 and Hall, 54-36, on Feb. 8 to improve to 11-6 on the season. Southington has won seven straight games entering this week’s action.
“I think that we’ve just been playing these last seven games as a team,” senior captain Colin Burdette said following the Hall win. “Everybody’s scoring, everybody’s doing their job, and when everybody’s doing their thing, it just works out well for us and we win games.”
Southington enjoyed the home court advantage of the Walt Lozoski Gymnasium during the past week. The crowd was never better than on Feb. 8 against Hall, which was Senior Night for the boys basketball team. Senior captains Burdette, Jacob Flynn, Ryan Gesnaldo and Adam Hunter were honored before the game. Students were there to cheer their classmates on, and the atmosphere was electric at times.
Southington started its week with a big game against Simsbury. For the first 14 ½ minutes of the game, the Knights ambushed the Trojans. At one point, Southington led 29-9.
“I love the 29, but I love the 9 more,” coach John Cessario said.
The Knights came out with a defensive game plan, and they executed it as a team, Cessario said. It also helped that Jared Kelly was on fire shooting the ball. Kelly scored 17 points in the first half and made every shot he took – four 3-pointers, two 2-pointers, and a foul shot.
Simsbury made a run after Southington got out to the 20-point lead, but the Knights were still ahead 29-16 at halftime. Kelly finished tied for the game’s high-scoring total with 20 points.
To Simsbury’s credit, it didn’t give up. The Trojans pulled to within one point in the fourth quarter, 41-40, on a Jackson Butler 3-pointer. Flynn made both ends of a one-and-one at the 1:54 mark to get the Knight lead back to 43-40. Burdette stole the ball and connected on a shot to put Southington ahead, 45-40, but a Gavin Griffiths 3-pointer cut the advantage to 45-43 with 30.5 seconds left.
The Knights broke the Trojan full-court pressure, however, and Flynn found Jake Napoli ahead of the pack for a layup and a 47-43 lead. Burdette (17 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) came up with another steal and a layup just before the final buzzer for the game’s last points.
“We had [some] turnovers late in the fourth, I had two of them,” Burdette said. “I just knew that I had to redeem myself for that, so I got a couple steals and defense led to offense for me.”
Burdette’s attitude about defense is something that flows throughout the team. If you can’t do it on offense, do it on defense.
“Once you turn the ball over, you’re on defense, and you just want to make that next play,” Burdette said.
“Simsbury’s going to be there in that Division I tournament,” Cessario said. “They have two incredible players, with six solid role players, and we were very, very thankful to get a win at home against them.”
Going into the Feb. 8 game against Hall, Southington had a plan to shut down a Warrior offense led by senior guard and captain James DeCrisantis. DeCrisantis can be a deadly shooter, but the Knights took him out of his game on Feb. 8. DeCrisantis scored just two points on a pair of foul shots, and Hall had just 36 as a team for the game. Senior captain Ryan Gesnaldo started out guarding DeCrisantis, then Southington mixed up its defenses, Cessario said.
“We were shadowing where he was, so we were able to close out on him,” Cessario said. “Everybody passed their tests with respect to defensive assignments.”
Burdette said Southington watched film on Hall at practice on Feb. 7, and they figured out what they needed to do.
“We knew going into the game how bad we played at their place, even though we only lost by five,” Burdette said. “We knew that if we came out and played like we did the last couple nights that we would win this game.”
Kelly again led Southington on offense with 17 points, but just six came on 3-pointers this time around. It wasn’t because he had a bad shooting night.
“Tonight he was tough, tougher with the ball, getting hit a little bit,” Cessario said, “being able to take a hit and deliver a hit, and still find guys in rhythm with momentum. I love that he scored 17, but I love that he grew as a player.”
Burdette also had a big night with 11 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. Hunter had 10 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots while Flynn added six points, five rebounds and a block. Gesnaldo had three assists and three rebounds.
Southington used a strong defensive effort to overcome a 7 ½ minute field goal drought in the second quarter. The Knights led 22-19 at halftime despite making just two field goals and four foul shots in the second quarter, and it had everything to do with the defensive effort.
“You don’t always have to score to be effective, and we have gamers,” Cessario said. “We have gamers that want to contribute unselfishly for one another.”
Up next: Southington ends the season with three straight road games, and the first two are this week. The Knights were scheduled to play at Conard on Wednesday night. On Friday, Southington is slated to play at Cheshire at 6:45 p.m.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com