Things didn’t look good for the Notre Dame-West Haven boys basketball team in the final few minutes of Saturday’s game against city rival West Haven.
Notre Dame trailed by 10 (48-38) with 3 minutes, 18 seconds left. The host Green Knights rallied to trail by one, 53-52, with just seconds remaining. Notre Dame had possession and Alex Puzone was all alone in the corner.
The senior drained the three-point basket as the buzzer sounded. Notre Dame remained undefeated at 4-0 with the win. Head coach Jason Shea has yet to lose a game in his brief career.
“I didn’t lose hope,” Shea said the following day. “Our personnel is capable of scoring in bunches in a short amount of time.”
Puzone’s shot came from right in front of the Green Knights’ bench. Shea said, “There was no doubt in my mind” the shot was going in.
With that, the Green Knights won their first game in the SCC Quinnipiac Division. Games two and three in the division will be much, much tougher to win.
Notre Dame travels to No. 1 Fairfield Prep Tuesday, then to Middletown to take on Xavier Friday.
“The only thing we need to focus on is putting ourselves in position to execute. If we do, we have a chance,” Shea said. “If we focus on who they have playing and where some of them are going to school, then we don’t have a chance.”
Sitting in the stands behind the Notre Dame bench Saturday was a familiar face. Gary Palladino coached the team for the 31 seasons, finishing with 412 victories and 499 overall. Shea was both a former player and coach under him.
Shea said he speaks with Palladino at least once a week, usually over breakfast on Sunday mornings. He has implemented his own system, but it never hurts to gain advice from his former mentor.
“He is extremely supportive, extremely positive with me,” Shea said. “When we do talk, its not about Xs and Os, not about strategy. He did say enjoy this one (West Haven) because I will be on the other end of it eventually.”
Shea inherited a senior-laden roster led by Tahj Eaddy (14.5 ppg.), Puzone (14.0 ppg.) and Lonnie Blackwell Jr.. The experience alone gives Notre Dame a good chance to exceed last season’s 15-win mark and fare well in both the SCC and Class L state tournaments.
“I like our senior leadership and our bench. I love the toughness of our team,” Shea said.
Westbrook off to quick start, too
The day his team plays the perfect the game is the day Westbrook coach Jeff Beeman said he will retire from coaching.
Now in his 16th season as a head coach and 30th overall, Beeman is still searching. “I think I’m pretty safe,” said Beeman, 57.
That’s what you strive for and so far, Westbrook may not have been perfect for 32 minutes of court action, but its record is spotless. At 6-0, the White Knights have been one of the early-season surprises.
“We have our flaws. We try to disguise and correct them,” Beeman said. “We’ve been able put the ball in the basket and we have defended pretty well.”
The triumvirate of Sam Grigo (17.0 ppg.), Faruk Cecunjanin (16.8 ppg.) and Cade Muckle (14.2 ppg.) have been tough for opponents to stop so far.
“Sam is a phenomenal shooter (the area’s leading three-point shooter with 23 ) A couple of games he went 6 of 7 from three (point range),” Beeman said about Grigo. “Cade was our leading scorer last year. He is more of a slasher, a get-out-on-the-fast-break kind of guy. Faruk can get to the basket on one dribble from the three-point line better than anyone I’ve ever coached except (Joe) Trapani.”
Trapani played for Beeman, 57, during the latter part of his 12-year tenure at Hand (1995-07). Trapani went on to play at both Vermont and Boston College. Pretty good company for Cecunjanin.
Now in his fourth season at Westbrook, Beeman made cuts for the first time to both his varsity and freshman programs. So things were looking up before the ball went up in the season opener.
Now Westbrook traves to East Hampton to take on the Bellringers — another undefeated Shoreline Conference team — in what could prove to be a important game among Shoreline contenders.
Just don’t tell Beeman that — yet.
“We are far away from a Shoreline title,” Beeman said. “This game will be a good barometer for us to see where we actually are.”