Wethersfield senior captain Tate Barnett and Rocky Hill’s Alexander Kastner battle for position during the Eagles 47-45 win on Feb. 14
Wethersfield High School boys’ basketball built a large lead in the second half before having to hold on to defeat a resilient Rocky Hill team 47-45 on Valentine’s Day, securing the Eagles a state tourney berth.
Senior captain Tate Barnett led the Eagles with 16 points, also grabbing eight rebounds and blocking four shots.
Head coach Brian Fanelli praised Barnett for his work this season, on and off the court.
“He does all the little things that kids don’t like to do,” added Fanelli. “He’s a good basketball player and is an unbelievable human being, [and] that’s why he is a good leader on the floor.”
Playing on the road in front of a packed house at Rocky Hill High School, Wethersfield used a 20-3 scoring run to take a commanding second half lead.
A floater by junior Kobe Chapman provided Wethersfield a 34-14 lead midway through the third before the Terriers stormed back to narrow the deficit to a single possession in the closing minutes.
Fanelli said that he can use the situation as a learning tool, credited the team for closing out the game despite the Terriers scoring 21 of the final 28 points.
“We hung in there; we could have folded,” added Fanelli. “With teams that are struggling to get wins, they could have easily closed shop.”
Following a 9-1 scoring run by Rocky Hill early in the fourth, Barnett temporarily halted the scoring surge by stealing a pass and converting an old-fashioned three-point play.
A pair of late free throws by junior point guard Thomas Daly sealed the win.
Daly is part of a solid backcourt in Wethersfield that also includes senior captains Ali Abdulkadir and A.J. Karanian.
The win was the Eagles eighth this season and cemented a spot in the upcoming state tournament.
It’s a far cry from a year ago when the team only won three games and missed out on postseason play.
Fanelli stated that his players are starting to figure out how to adjust to in-game situations, which has led to some impressive wins this winter.
After losing seven of the first ten games this season, the win over Rocky Hill was the Eagles fifth in the last seven games.
During that stretch, they won consecutive conference games over Hartford Public, Plainville, and South Windsor.
Fanelli added that many of his players have had to learn the rigors of the varsity game this winter and wins like the one of Rocky Hill can go a long way to building confidence.
“We try and teach our guys to be in those situations, not just for this year but also next year,” added Fanelli. “Kids play sports because it is one of those situations where they are criticized on the spot. How you respond will make or break you.”
With the state tourney looming, Fanelli said the team’s need to take advantage of the easy opportunities and tighten up the decision making.
“I would like them to be more consistent,” added Fanelli. “We’ve been a little inconsistent at taking care of the ball and we can’t have that when it comes to playoff time.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin