(Wethersfield's Liam Harrington posts up on Newington's Julian Ortiz during the Indians 66-51 victory last Tuesday at WHS. Photo- Jo-Ann Campbell)
Newington boys’ basketball silenced the home crowd at WHS with a 14-0 run in the second quarter on the way to a 66-51 victory over Wethersfield last Tuesday night.
Mason Romano scored 10 points during the run, including eight straight, and finished with a team-high 21 points.
“I think the second quarter was an effort thing. We had guys come off the bench and really hustle and create some tempo which opened the game up for us a little bit,” said Newington’s second-year head coach Ed Quick.
Early on Wethersfield fed off the energy from the crowd and played brilliantly over the first eight minutes, leading 12-11 after the first quarter thanks in large part to 10 points from do-it-all senior Derek Tenney.
The Eagles upped the lead to 16-14 early in the second quarter on a pair of buckets from sophomore Jake Prunier, but a Romano jump hook tied the game and a dunk from the 6’4” junior moments later gave the Indians a lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the night.
“We didn’t really change anything,” recalled Quick, referencing the second quarter adjustments, “We’re just trying to be more consistent and I think the last three games have been a really good tools for us about consistency. Even tonight I though we were a little inconsistent, but we were able to get a good win against a really good program.”
Quick and his team started this season with four impressive wins but had dropped the previous three games before Tuesday night. The win over Wethersfield improved the Indians to 5-3.
“What we’re going for is being a consistent program that sits in our stance and covers each other on defense and plays the game with balance on offense. Tonight there were some moments when we were off balance and we took some quick shots.”
Late in the first half, Wethersfield’s Noel Lopez halted Newington’s run with a deep three from the left wing and Luke Latina hit a midrange jumper, cutting the deficit to 28-21 at the break.
The home team’s momentum bled into the second half and a pair of free throws from Tenney got them within 33-30 before Newington’s steady senior Julian Ortiz countered with four straight free throws, helping the Indians closed the third quarter on a 11-4 run.
“To start the third we dipped and credit to Wethersfield. #23 [Tenney] is a really good player and #3 [Lopez] is a good player. We talked a lot about keeping them out of the lane and we weren’t able to do that in the third, We started to foul,” stated Quick, “That’s just effort and kudos to Wethersfield they ran down a lot of loose balls early and they probably had 14 points at the half by just outhustling us. That was an emphasis at the half and that’s the consistency thing that I talk about. We’ve really emphasis not coming down and just shooting the first shot.”
Pinpoint accuracy from the foul line in the fourth quarter sealed the deal for the road team. The Indians made 14 of 17 free throws over the final eight minutes of action to preserve the 15-point victory.
“That’s like a field goal kicker, you either make them or you don’t. What we talked about in practice is making our free throws but if you miss, miss long don’t miss short. Tonight was a good night for us from the line and it helped us stretch the lead out late in the game when Wethersfield was coming back a little bit.”
The short-handed Eagles fought until the end despite being down two key players. Junior Connor Pace, who is recovering from an injury suffered during football season, and senior Dante Burgos are two starters that head coach Brian Fanelli has been without.
In spite of the injuries and a 0-3 start, the Eagles have rebounded nicely this season. The team had won three of four games before Tuesday night, including a 75-63 win over Rocky Hill on Jan 4.
Ball movement has always been a key to the success for the program and seven Eagles broke into the scoring column against Newington, led by Tenney’s 21.
“Wethersfield is really well coached and they’ve had great success here,” stated Quick, “For us it’s all about what we can do to be successful and what we can do to build that consistency. I’ve put a lot of onus on our six seniors and four captains. I challenge them to think differently about leadership, not just showing up and do jumping jacks and being a good kid. Our core beliefs as a program are about great effort and great attitude.”
Four Newington players scored in double-figures, led by Romano. A.J. Fair had 13, Jaren Morris had 11, and Ortiz added 10.
Junior Nick Dummond came off the bench to add five points, including a dagger three in the fourth, and dished out a pair of highlight-reel assists in transition.
Tuesday’s victory matched the team’s win total from a season ago when the Indians finished 5-15 during Quick’s first season in charge.
The improved record is a bonus for Quick, but the no-nonsense coach is more concerned with building the right culture and believes that wins are a biproduct of the hard work in the offseason.
“I think what people need to understand is that no matter what level you’re at winning is hard. I would rate our schedule as one of the toughest in the state on purpose. We won’t duck anybody,” stated the second-year coach, “The support of the town and the athletic director has been awesome. Your culture is built by players and your ability to have them to think differently and to get better every day. If you do that you’ll be successful, and if you don’t do that you’re in the wrong place.”
Following the win at Wethersfield the team surpassed last year’s win total, earning their sixth win by defeating Northwest Catholic 48-47 behind a late floater from Fair.
Next up is a home date with Rocky Hill on Thursday, Jan 17 at 6:45 pm.
Wethersfield closed the week with a 56-47 overtime loss to Glastonbury and will next host New Britain on Friday, Jan 18 at 6:45 pm.
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Nikki Lukens- Rocky Hill (Basketball): Lukens became the all-time leading scorer in the history of Rocky Hill girls’ basketball during a 14-point performance against New Britain last Tuesday. She broke the record when she made a layup while being fouled in the third quarter, surpassing the previous mark of 1186 which had been held since the mid-nineties.
John Famiglietti- Newington (Diving): Famiglietti had a state qualifying performance in Newington’s swimming and diving meet against Conard last Tuesday. The senior diver finished first at the meet and and junior teammate Andriy Grynyk placed second.
Mya Villard- Cromwell Alum (Basketball): Villard was an all-around stud for Cromwell basketball from 2012-2016, scoring over 1200 career points and was part of two state championships teams (2013 & 2016). The 2016-graduate has continued to flourish at a colligate level, recently surpassing the 1000-point plateau at Eastern Connecticut University. In typical Villard fashion, the Warriors’ junior accomplished the feat while being fouled and by kissing the ball off glass following a strong inside move.
Katharine Edwards and Kylie Judson- Wethersfield (Dance): Edwards and Judson are co-captains of Wethersfield’s dance team and helped lead the Eagles to two first place finishes last weekend. At the Dancin' In The Woods competition at Woodland Regional High School, WHS took first place in both the Jazz and Pom divisions.
Dominque Highsmith- Middletown (Basketball): Highsmith scored 13 points and was active of the defensive end as Middletown smothered Platt 51-35. The Blue Dragons held the home Panthers to a measly two points in the opening quarter and completed the sweep of Meriden, also defeating Maloney (59-20) in the previous game behind another strong defensive outing and 18 points form MacKenzie Dunn.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin