TORRINGTON >> Torrington’s boys basketball team (6-4) kept the scoring spread close for the first quarter against visiting Sacred Heart (9-2). Then the Hearts turned the corner toward a 77-56 final at the Connie Donahue Gymnasium Thursday night.
“Eric always has his guys playing hard. I thought the first half would be closer,” said Hearts coach Jon Carroll.
Maybe next time.
This time, despite the respectable start against a team many people call a shoo-in for the Class S State Championship (Terryville might argue), the Red Raiders’ cylinders weren’t quite in sync.
One starter sat for the first quarter, another for the first half for disciplinary reasons.
Replacements played hard, but, ultimately, Torrington coach Eric Gamari found his team’s mental game lacking.
“It’s not physical; it’s mental,” he said. “My seniors made too many mistakes.”
Like Torrington, the Hearts are young and talented. Carroll starts three sophomores and two juniors to Gamari’s sometime lineup with a freshman and two sophomores.
Like Torrington, Sacred Heart is proud of its youth. Sophomore point guard Mustapha Heron (14 points) has earned fame in his first year in the NVL, already verbally committing to Division I Pittsburgh.
Junior center Malik Petteway (game-high 25 points) is an athletic 6’4.
“We’re still trying to learn to play together,” said Coach Carroll before the game. “Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t.”
Gamari designed a defense that might double team Heron and collapse on Petteway.
The first strike in the plan was the disciplinary action, leaving Mitch Zagrodnik a man short underneath and John McCarthy a man short out front.
“Mitch did well,” said Gamari.
Zagrodnik (12 points) was Torrington’s most effective big man.
McCarthy, often forced to guard Heron, picked up his third foul two minutes into the second period, eventually fouling out with just six points.
Nevertheless, with the Hearts out to a 4-0 early lead, Zagrodnik and McCarthy showed Torrington’s grit early.
Zagrodnik hit Torrington’s first points on a fast break; McCarthy followed with a layup, 6-4.
The Hearts’ weapons started stacking up.
Pettaway and sophomore guard Charles Fisher (20 points) had all of Sacred Heart’s points in a 12-6 lead midway through the first quarter. McCarthy got downcourt for 12-8. Then Heron showed up for the first time with a put-back.
“(The NVL is) a competitive conference. We have a target on our backs,” said Heron after the game. Already famous, he answered questions from a couple of young admirers, then talked about his ties to Pittsburgh.
“It’s good to get it out of the way and know what I have to do to fit in the system — get stronger and improve my game,” he said.
In the mold of DI players, Heron is already a grown man. Supporters around him take advantage of the focus on him.
Before the first period was over, Zagrodnik had another Torrington hoop. Sacred Heart’s Isaiah Roscoe had two and Heron was at the foul line for a final pair.
The Heart lead was 22-12.
Zak Mancini (12 points) came in for a pair of threes in the second quarter. Desmond Langs (5 points) was on hand for a put-back in the third.
This game, hope was gone with a 47-25 halftime score.
Next time, the Raiders plan to give it a better shot.
“We can play with them,” said Gamari.
Sacred Heart 77, Torrington 56
At Torrington High School
Sacred Heart 22 25 18 12—77
Torrington 12 13 15 16—56
Sacred Heart (77): Tyran Flowers 3-0-7; Isaiah Roscoe 3-1-7; Charles Fisher 9-2-20; Mustapha Heron 4-6-14; Malik Petteway 8-9-25; Vin Lombardi 1-2-4; David Whitney 0-0-0; Pat Dempsey 0-0-0; John Molina 0-0-0; D.J. Douglas 0-0-0; Quincy Williams 0-0-0; Damian Ellis 0-0-0; Christain Traver 0-0-0; Totals: 28-20-72.
Torrington (56): Victor Diaz 3-0-6; Zak Mancini 4-2-12; Jerry Aguero 1-2-5; John McCarthy 3-0-6; Connor Finn 1-0-2; Jake Boccio 0-0-0; Mitch Zagrodnik 6-0-12; Spencer Mourges 1-2-5; Desmond Langs 1-3-5; Dom Sabia 1-1-3; Tim Considine 0-0-0; Totals: 21-10-56.
3-point goals: SH—Flowers. T—Mancini 2; Aguero; Mourges.
Records: Sacred Heart 9-2; Torrington 6-4.