You won’t find many tougher regular-season schedules than the one the Cheshire boys basketball team has played.
Each of the Rams’ four losses have been to teams either currently or previously ranked in the Register Top 10 poll. Such is life in the Southern Connecticut Conference.
“We are proud to play in the SCC,” Cheshire coach Dan Lee said. “We get a chance to play the best teams in the state. I like to think in the last few seasons it has benefitted us.”
Cheshire (8-4) plays No. 1 Fairfield Prep, No. 3 Career, Hillhouse and Xavier all twice. Cheshire has played the No. 1 team in the state each of the last three years (St. Joseph, Hillhouse and Prep).
The Rams’ biggest win came against Xavier at home last Tuesday to split that season series.
That win came four days after beating Foran at the buzzer 59-57 in Milford. Lee said he called two timeouts in the final 10 seconds before Andrew Yamin won it at the buzzer.
“Literally at the buzzer. The ball was out of his hands with under a second left,” Lee said about the final play. “Andrew is the type of player that makes things happen. He is a hard-working, tough-minded individual.”
Yamin is the Rams’ leading scorer at 13.9 ppg., but it’s the team’s second-leading scorer who has been the team’s most important player on a team featuring seven seniors.
Point guard Colln Jordan (10.8 ppg.) is a three-year starter. It’s nearly impossible to keep him out of the paint area in the Rams’ up-tempo offense.
“Collin is another tough-minded person,” Lee said. “He’s been our starting point guard since he was a sophomore. He’s been out there for all of those big games. He’s not a person who will back down from a challenge. He embraces it. Whatever we need in a given spot, he fills that role. And we ask a lot of him.”
Cheshire controls its own destiny in the race for the SCC Housatonic Division title and has two big games this week against Shelton and Amity. Sandwiched in between is another former top 10 team — Wilby.
No it certainly doesn’t get easier for the Rams.
“It’s a long season with a lot of different challenges,” Lee said. “Hopefully, our schedule pays dividends in the postseason.”
Don’t look now, but there is one team still undefeated in South-West Conference play. And no, it’s not Bunnell or Kolbe Cathedral.
Notre Dame-Fairfield has won eight straight, including three tough road games last week against Bunnell (at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport), New Fairfield and Pomperaug, all of which have received poll votes this season.
“I hoped to go 2-1, 1-2 maybe,” Notre Dame coach Vin Laczkoski said. “I also knew it was a possibility to go 3-0. New Fairfield and Pomperaug are both tough places to play and Bunnell is a very good team.”
Now its the Lancers everyone in the SWC is chasing as the regular season enters the stretch run.
In December, Notre Dame went 1-3, including a pair of decisive losses two of the current top three teams — Fairfield Prep and Career.
Laczkoski credits a full week of practice right after that heading into a Jan. 7 game against Stratford. That win started an undefeated January for the Lancers.
“I’m ecstatic. I couldn’t be happier with the group we have,” Laczkoski said. “I think Career and Prep are the top two teams in the state. We’ve been able to bounce back and done what we were supposed to do.”
The Lancers lost a Register All-State selection in point guard Greg Upchurch among others from last year’s squad. Senior forward Jaylen Jennings has helped fill that void.
Laczkoski said Jennings is averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds per game. Laczkoski also pointed out sophomore point guard Jordan Pettway’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.5 to 1.
Then there’s Notre Dame’s 71 percent free-throw shooting so far. And even worse news for the SWC: almost everyone but Jennings returns next season.
“In my eight years at Notre Dame, this group has given me less headaches than any of my other (Notre Dame) teams,” Laczkoski said.
Chris Jean-Pierre, Valley Regional: Junior had 33 points and 10 rebounds in an 80-49 win over Morgan. He added 21 points in a 65-62 win over Cromwell.
Paschal Chukwu, Fairfield Prep: Senior had 26 points, nine rebounds and nine blocked shots in a 70-58 win over Hillhouse. He added 18 points in a 73-52 win over Branford.
Dave Ryan, Amity: Senior had 24 points in a 56-54 overtime win against Shelton, 22 points in a 59-49 loss to Guilford and 23 points in a 55-51 loss to Sheehan.
Andrew Yamin, Cheshire: Junior had 20 points, including the winning shot at the buzzer, to help Cheshire beat Foran 59-57. Yamin added 14 points in a 61-47 loss to Hillhouse.
Cade Muckle, Westbrook: Senior had 26 points in a 66-50 win over Haddam-Killingworth and 25 points in a 59-55 win over Portland.
Pha’Rod Goodjohn, Whitney Tech: Junior had 32 points in a 61-45 win over O’Brien Tech and 19 points in a 74-68 win over Wilcox Tech.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Sacred Heart at Crosby, Tuesday, 7 p.m. WATR 1320-AM: Sacred Heart gave Crosby its closest game of the season, 79-76, back on Dec. 23. Sacred Heart has won nine straight coming into this top-10 matchup.
Xavier at Notre Dame-West Haven, Friday, 7 p.m. GoGreenKnights.com: A key game for second place in the SCC Quinnipiac division and for league tournament seeding.
Valley Regional at Westbrook, Saturday, 6:30 p.m.: Game was originally scheduled for two weeks ago, but was postponed. Westbrook is one of the five remaining undefeated CIAC teams. Valley is the defending Shoreline Conference champion and has won eight straight.
•Paul Dudzinski collected his 300th career win at Stratford Friday with the Red Devils’ 65-52 victory over Bethel.