Wethersfield's Joseph Raposo drives on Raheim Lowery during Newington's 65-61 overtime victory. Photo courtesy of Jo-Ann Campbell
After losing to Wethersfield at home on Jan 24, things looked bleak for the then 2-9 Newington boys’ basketball team.
Exactly a month later Newington got revenge, defeating the Eagles 65-61 in overtime at WHS to secure a spot in the Division II tournament.
“It’s a great atmosphere, a great win,” Newington coach Ed Quick said after the tourney-clinching victory, “I told the kids we’re like the Tennessee Titans. We started rough and now nobody wants to play us. We’re not pretty, it’s actual ugly to watch sometimes, but we battle and make every possession matter.”
Quick’s team needed every possession in the 36-minute slugfest, which featured 14 lead changes and six ties.
Jayden Andujar shined in the fourth quarter and overtime, scoring 15 of his game-high 20 points over the final dozen minutes.
“He’s got guts,” Quick said of his junior guard, “When you’re a little guy like him, you’ve got to have guts and fight.”
After falling behind 39-38 following a three from Wethersfield’s Jack Romagnoli early in the fourth, Andujar scored eight points to lead a 10-2 Newington run.
Newington upped their lead to 50-45 on a layup from Alexander Ford (18 points) with less than two minutes to play before the home team closed regulation on an 8-3 run, highlighted by a last-second layup from Luke Latina.
Trailing 55-53 with 5.7 remaining, Latina received the inbounds pass and decisively split Newington’s defense before kissing it high off glass as time expired for two of his 12 points.
“We weren’t sure what they were going to run [zone or man] after the time out. We had it set up for a flare and a drive for a two off a zone. When Luke got the ball, he realized it was zone and attacked the middle of the zone and surprisingly got all the way to the rim,” Wethersfield coach Brian Fanelli said of Latina’s layup that extended the game.
“Latina is a great kid from a great family and he hit a great shot,” added Quick, who shifted his players attention to overtime, “I told them we’ve done this in practice a thousand times, it’s just another situation. Let’s go play four more minutes.”
The teams traded buckets early in the extra session, but it was Newington foul shooting that made the difference down the stretch. Andujar drained five free throws and the Indians made 8 of 10 as a team in overtime.
“We made it hard on ourselves, but that’s okay. It means that much more. It’s a really good win and now we’re in the states. I’m super proud of them.” stated Quick, whose team won four of their final five games to qualify for the tourney.
The regular season finale had several shifts in momentum.
Newington led 16-12 after the first quarter behind Donovan Price, who scored six of his 10 points in the quarter.
“He’s a monster. Not a better kid in America,” Quick said of Price, who also had four blocks, “He’s a great student and a great kid.”
Wethersfield responded in the second quarter, outscoring the Indians 17-9 thanks to eight points from Connor Pace, who led the Eagles with 15 points.
As they have done all year Newington countered by holding the Eagles to only seven points in the third, before finishing it off on the offensive end in overtime.
“I’m very proud of our guys because they’ve been really resilient all year,” said Quick, whose team defeated conference foes Rocky Hill, New Britain, and Wethersfield down the stretch after losing to all three earlier in the season, “It’s all because of the kids. They wanted to be successful. I put too much stress on them early in the season and they put too much stress on themselves. We got better and I did a better job at easing off and not being so tough about things.”
As the team’s confidence grew, the wins piled up.
“You can’t teach experience. These guys were all on JV last year and now they’re on a varsity program with eight wins. I think we’ve become a team that nobody wants to go against. We still have to get a lot better in areas, but the bottom line is, in a day in age where kids transfer, where kids quit teams or don’t want to commit, our guys are committed and gave us everything we asked for and they’ve done right by Newington High.”
With the loss, Wethersfield closed the regular season at 8-12.
“I wasn’t totally disappointed because the way they fought, but we should have never got into that situation,” said Fanelli.
The loss put a damper on a festive Senior Night for the Eagles, who celebrated six basketballers along with the dance and cheer team seniors (Rebecca Sullivan, Alexia Lopez, Emma Rakus, Kassandra Vazquez, and Christine Vittner).
Pace, Romagnoli, Jimmy Luiz, Andrew Desrochers, Tanner Slesinski, and Owen Barnett have all earned the respect of Fanelli, “These guys were a bunch of unselfish, hard-working kids who showed up every day and gave everything they could. Even though they all didn’t play as much as they might have like to, they didn’t complain and worked their tails off.”
Last Friday, the seniors help upset top-see Tolland in the CCC tourney, before falling to Glastonbury in round-two.
Fanelli and his team are in a familiar position entering the state tourney as underdogs, following back-to-back eight-win seasons and will be looking to play spoiler like they did in the conference tourney, “We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Both Newington and Wethersfield will be on the road to begin the Division II tournament, which starts on Tuesday, March 10.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin