Rocky Hill's #31 Dennis Machial is defended by Wethersfield's Jack Freitas during Wethersfield's 56-49 win last Monday.
Louie Montalvo was held scoreless for the first 31 minutes last Monday night. The confident freshman then took over the game’s final minute as Wethersfield boys basketball held off Rocky Hill’s late rally, winning 56-49 at WHS.
Clinging to a 49-47 lead in the closing minute, the home Eagles controlled the ball and were looking to drain the clock.
Methodically working the ball around the horn with a pair of crisp passes, senior Jack Freitas swung the ball to Montalvo who was all by himself on the left baseline. Without hesitation, Montalvo released and canned a three-pointer with .43 left in regulation.
“He’s got that killer instinct, that’s what we needed,” said senior captain Luke Latina, who added that he and teammate Joseph Raposo both put their hands on his head as soon as Montalvo went into his shooting motion, “We’ll take it. He’s really good and he’s going to be the man.”
Montalvo then capped the game on the defensive end with a steal, which he followed by draining a pair of game-clinching foul shots.
Head coach Brian Fanelli had trust in his first-year player, who has quickly fit into the rotation, “Give him credit, he had the guts to take it and he made a really good defensive play at the other end.”
It ended an entertaining game, which was a tale of quarters with the Eagles controlling the first and third, while the Terriers made runs in the second and fourth quarters.
“We just can’t go down 22-5,” said Rocky Hill coach Mike Dudis, “We started out with a bad first four minutes and another bad first four minutes of the second half, so we had to rally again. The guys are disappointed but we hung in there”
The home team led the entire way, jumping out to a 7-0 advantage and expanding the lead to as many as 17 points in the first half behind great ball movement and the inside play of Jake Prunier, who scored a team-high 15 points.
Prunier, who called the game a “must win” said he enjoys these type of physical rivalry games, “I love it. It’s fun when you’re banging around and shoving each other. That stuff is fun.”
Wethersfield entered the contest having lost three games by a combined nine points to quality opponents (Middletown, Newington, and Maloney).
Prunier, a senior captain, made sure his team did not suffer another close loss, accomplishing something rare during the victory by scoring first in all four quarters.
He made a turnaround jumper to start the first, a layup to open the second, a lefty hook to start the third, and finished a fast break bucket to open the fourth.
“We just couldn’t turn it over as much and we needed to hit foul shots, which we did tonight particularly towards the end to put the game away,” added Prunier.
The road Terriers, who were playing in only their third game because of COVID quarantine restrictions, ended the half on a 16-6 run behind senior Arber Ndoni who scored six of his nine during the spurt.
Wethersfield ballooned the lead to a dozen early in the fourth before the feisty Terriers again clawed back in thanks to Dennis Machial, who scored 11 of his game-high 16 points in the second half.
Junior Dalton Grant also chipped in with five of his 11 points in the fourth.
Machial ignited a 13-3 run, narrowing the gap to two points late in regulation. The senior captain had a chance to tie the game, but his driving layup attempted between a flock of Eagles rattled in-and-out.
“We named him a junior captain last year because he has great intensity, great heart, and he’s a very good player. He’s undersized but he makes up for it with his energy,” Dudis said of Machial, “His defensive ability today was great and it’s really his leadership, it’s the catalyst for us. We need to keep feeding off him. He’s done a great job.”
Dudis implemented a full court press in the second and fourth quarters, which turned the tide in both situations, “It was something the coaches talked about coming in. We’ve been struggling offensively in the half court, so we felt in a desperate situation down 17 we needed to generate some offense. Our offense was stagnant and Wethersfield and coach Fanelli to have a good defense, they bring it every time we play them. It turned the game around for us at that point.”
Turnovers plagued the Eagles in the second quarter and Fanelli adjusted at halftime, “Halftime we made two adjustment. We put four across and then decided to pump it into Jake Prunier in the third quarter and that changed the whole complexion of the game.”
Prunier scored 11 of his 15 in the second half, adding that each game holds more importance during this shortened season, “We have 12 games, and we can’t afford any screw ups. Every game is a must win.”
Fanelli added that close games will probably be the story of the team’s season, “This year we’re going to take every team that same because that’s who we are. We’re up and down, day to day, trying to improve.”
“We’ve got prepare these guys for what’s next after their senior year, and for the guys that are coming back we have to get them ready for next year. It’s time for everyone to get over COVID as an excuse. We’re back, school is back, and right now we’re trying to keep it business as usual.”
Fanelli’s seniors are just happy to have a season.
“We just have to take it day by day because every day is not guaranteed, it could end tomorrow. We just have to be thankful for every practice we get, every game we get,” said Latina, “We have to work harder in practice, and we showed spots tonight, so that’s an improvement but we just have to tighten it up in practice and get more reps in. We get better as the season goes on.”
Following the win, Wethersfield defeated Bulkeley on Thursday and fell to Platt Saturday, ending the week with a record of 2-4.
Dudis believes his Terriers are on the right track after battling back twice in the loss, “We could have quit and in years past we may have had teams that wouldn’t have been able to rally, so hopefully we can take that momentum and push it forward. The guys are obviously dejected and it’s a frustrating start, but we feel we’re trending in the right direction.”
Rocky Hill dropped another heartbreaker, a 55-52 loss to Newington on Thursday, before rebounding with a 49-26 victory over Bulkeley on Saturday.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin