Raise your hand if you had Staples as the last undefeated team in the FCIAC.
Yes, the Wreckers are alone at the top after defeating Trinity Catholic, the touted preseason favorite by coaches and media alike, 66-59 at home on Friday night.
“We’ve always been competitive. We are harder to prepare for, more balanced than in years past,” said Staples coach Colin Devine, now in his 13th season at the helm.
Devine wanted Trinity Catholic to call the first timeout, and the Crusaders did after a quick Wreckers’ spurt to start the game.
“We got up on them, took a 20-point lead,” Devine said. “They made a great run and it turned into a one-possession game. We panicked a little bit, but we regained our composure. We took their best shot. A year or two ago, we lose that lead. We have a balanced attack and senior leadership, so we know how to win those games. (That game) was truly a testament to the kids’ hard work and perseverance.”
All of a sudden, the Wreckers have not only become the team everyone is chasing in the FCIAC, they have also jumped into the top 10 poll for the first time, right at No. 10.
Devine has a senior guard in Jake Thaw who he thinks could be the player of the year in the league.
“Teams that key on Jake, he can make a tremendous read with the basketball (and find an open teammate). Lucas Basich and A.J. Konstanty can both step and make shots,” Devine said.
Staples has a backup point guard in Ben Feurer who will take some of the pressure off of Thaw.
Devine knows better than to look ahead. The FCIAC has plenty of teams that are contenders for the league title. He knows for the Wreckers to be there at the end, they have plenty to do.
“It will come down to which teams play well on the road,” Devine said. “Against any of the teams, to have a chance to play well when you are not making shots, you need to get stops on defense.”
Staples has back-to-back road games Friday at Trumbull and Jan. 21 at Fairfield Warde. A couple more loom later in the season against Ridgefield (Feb. 10) and New Canaan (Feb. 24).
Staples last trip to the FCIAC tournament semifinals under Devine was on 2012. Staples has moved up to Division II from III, and Devine is fine with that.
“That’s where we should be,” Devine said.
Spartans do it again
Dereyk Grant went end to end to drive in for what would have been the game-winning basket. But the shot didn’t roll in.
With that, Amity survived 53-52 over then seventh-ranked and previously undefeated Wilbur Cross at home. Joe Digello scored 17 points in the third quarter, 15 from beyond the 3-point stripe.
Amity (2-4) outscored Cross 26-7 in the third quarter.
“Our start to the third quarter and Joe DiGello’s hot shooting sparked our focus on the defensive end,” Amity coach Jeff Nielsen said. “We didn’t play well down the stretch, too many turnovers and poor decisions. However we made just enough layups and foul shots.”
Amity was coming off an 80-63 loss at Shelton. Nielsen said DiGello missed that game because he was sick.
“I was hoping we would show some life after a poor performance at Shelton,” Nielsen said.
Friday’s win was the third straight for Amity against Cross during the regular season. In fact, Amity is the only team to beat Cross three times during the regular season since the start of the 2017-18 season.
“I know we are capable, but didn’t expect it to be last night. I was thinking we needed to build up to it,” Nielsen said.
Quinton Belton-Tilghman had 9 of his 11 points in the fourth quarter for the Spartans, who did lose to Cross in last year’s SCC tournament semifinals. The Governors went on to beat Notre Dame-West Haven in the final.
Breaking down the streak
Sacred Heart extended its winning streak in the Naugatuck Valley League to 111 games last Friday night with a 74-63 win at Crosby. The Hearts’ last loss came in the 2014 NVL tournament final to those Bulldogs from Crosby.
Let’s take a closer look at the streak:
During the 2014-15 regular season, Sacred Heart’s closest game was 16 points against Kennedy. In 2015-16, its closest regular-season league game was 12 points against Holy Cross.
Those were Mustapha Heron’s last two seasons playing for the Hearts – both of which resulted in state championships.
The closest Sacred Heart came to losing a regular-season league game occurred in early February, 2017. Wilby took the Hearts to overtime, then fell 75-67 in the extra session. Three days later, Holy Cross only lost by two, 65-63.
Almost one year to the day later, WCA gave the Hearts a run at Alumni Hall before losing 68-65. That game was played on Feb. 2, 2018.
Last year, Sacred Heart’s closest game came at Crosby, 64-58, on Jan. 25, 2019.
Crosby also gave Sacred Heart its best game in a tournament final: Bulldogs fell 68-66 back in 2015. The Hearts have played just one NVL team in the state tournament during the streak: Watertown in the 2016 Class M second round, winning 85-47.
No. 1 at HoopHall Classic
Top-ranked East Catholic is the only CIAC school participating in the Spalding HoopHall Classic this weekend at Springfield College’s Blake Arena in Springfield, Massachusetts.
East Catholic will face Archbishop Stepinac (N.Y.) on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. On Sunday, St. Thomas More starts the full day of prep school action at 9 a.m. against Wilbraham & Monson (Mass.) and Woodstock Academy (the prep team) faces Vermont Academy at 9 p.m.