TORRINGTON — Riddled with flu and their best player lost for the year, the Torrington boys basketball played their best team game of the season in a 63-48 win against Woodland Friday night.
Red Raider T.J. Calabrese, a dynamo scoring as many as 28 and 32 points for Torrington, broke a bone in his foot Wednesday at Watertown. Playing without three key team members in last Saturday’s double overtime loss to Newtown, the Raiders had three others out sick Friday for a total of six active players on the floor.
All six of them scored. Three — Brian Ballesteros (14 points); Justin Mattiello (14); and Mohamed Traore (11) — were in double figures. The other three — Ben Smith (9); Nick Balducci (8); and Joe White (7) — were huge contributors on offense and defense.
“T.J. affects both ends of the court. He’s our main guy,” said Ballesteros. “Today, we just rallied together to get the win.”
“Hats off to Torrington; they’re going through some tough times,” said Woodland coach John Mariano. “For them to score 63 points without their best player is a credit to their character.”
After watching the Raiders come out with more team energy and focus than they’d shown all year for a 20-10 first-quarter lead and 32-24 at the half, the Raider character display coach Eric Gamari liked best came when the Hawks closed to four points, 35-31, early in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Nate Bodnar and a drive by Jason Palmieri; and again in the fourth, 45-41, on drives by Bodnar and Nate Smith (team-high 14 points).
“We didn’t panic,” said Gamari, who’s seen his 4-7 team (4-5 NVL) play lights out for three quarters, then hit the skids in the fourth in too many losses this season.
“After the Watertown loss, I sat down with my seniors and talked with them about what I expect and what we needed to improve,” Gamari said. “Tonight, that happened.”
From 35-31, forward Smith hit a three and a foul line jumper; Mattiello swished a three from the corner; and Smith was 2-for-2 from the foul line to lead the Raiders back to a 10-point lead, 45-35, by the end of the period.
At 45-41, Traore (4 points in the run); Balducci (steal and coast-to-coast layup); and Ballesteros (2-for-2 from the foul line) brought Torrington back to 55-42.
Mattiello took over at the foul line, 6-for-6, on the final path to the win.
Dropping to 5-6; 4-6 NVL, Mariano said: “We were not ready to play tonight.”
Without their star and other key teammates, six Red Raiders decided they were.