It’s hard to forget an ending like the one the Shelton boys basketball team experienced last season.
Needing just one more victory to qualify for the Class LL state tournament, the Gaels lost their last five games and missed the postseason. Motivation for this season? You bet.
“That was our motivation to put hard work into our offseason,” Shelton coach Brian Gardiner said. “In our first practice (in December), my speech was about how many days we had been waiting for this season after what happened in our last game to not make the playoffs.”
As this regular season nears the midway point, Shelton stands at 6-3, just two wins away from reaching the LL tournament for only the second time in Gardiner’s six-year tenure. But achieving eight wins wasn’t one of the stated goals.
“We believe we are better than eight wins,” Gardiner said.
So far the Gaels have achieved most of those wins without senior co-captain Christian Federici, who has missed several games with an ankle injury. Gardiner said he doesn’t expect him to be back until next week.
Senior Chris Pawlowski and junior Justin Lynch have earned more minutes in Federici’s absence and have been important factors in Shelton’s success, along with stalwarts Mike Davis (15.4 ppg.) and co-captain Pat Murphy (12.3 ppg.), both seniors.
“Mike Davis and Pat Murphy are both experienced guards. We count on them heavily,” Gardiner said. “Mike Davis has been sensational and Pat Murphy is always clutch.”
The goals that Shelton did establish before the season have either been attained in some regard or are still within reach. Gardiner wanted the team to outwork its opponents and hold teams under 50 points, which has occurred three times so far.
Shelton wants to win the SCC Housatonic division. Thus far, the Gaels are at 3-0, tied with Cheshire. The last goal is to finish above .500, which if it happened, would be the first time since the 2005-06 season, when Gardiner was an assistant under Joe Sedlock.
Increasing that win total this week won’t be easy. Shelton has road games Tuesday at Notre Dame-West Haven and Friday at Hand, who beat the Tigers at the buzzer earlier this season after Shelton had rallied back from a double-digit deficit and had a chance to steal the win.
“Obviously, we play two very good teams in their gym, but I expect out guys to go in and play as hard as we can,” Gardiner said. “I tell them, ‘As long as you play as hard as you can, good things will happen.’ There are no bargains. If you don’t come our ready, you can get beat by anyone.”
More about Saulsbury
On Sunday, the Wilbur Cross gymnasium was officially named after former coach Bob Saulsbury. The ceremony included countless tributes from former star players, dignitaries and friends alike.
Saulsbury, 84, won 493 games and nine CIAC state championships during his 28-year tenure. He would tell you to that Sunday wouldn’t have been possible without his former players, many of who received accolades from this newspaper and other organizations.
But Saulsbury didn’t hesitate to promote players on other teams. Joe Tonelli Sr. coached against him while he was at Notre Dame-West Haven and both teams played in the former District League.
Tonelli had a standout player by the name of Stan MacLachlan, who graduated in 1972 and was a New Haven resident.
“Stan happened to live around the corner from Wilbur Cross, and Bob always took a liking to him and how he played,” Tonelli recalled. “He went out of his way to compliment Stan and always told him to keep working hard. Back then, you couldn’t vote for your own players (to make the All-District League team), but Bob really promoted him (to the other coaches) and he ended up being a unanimous selection.
“Bob always had the knack for knowing what to do in given situations. And he was always concerned about his kids, both as basketball players and as people.”