TORRINGTON — Out from under a brutal early boys basketball schedule, Torrington evened its NVL record (3-3; 3-4 overall) with a 59-43 win over Wolcott behind a 30-point spree from junior forward T.J. Calabrese Monday evening at Torrington High School.
The Red Raiders graduated all its starters from last year’s Division III semifinal team. Then the new corps opened up with losses to three of this year’s top league teams — Holy Cross, Naugatuck and Crosby — along with another to Division III champion Farmington.
“The schedule was a wake-up call,” said Calabrese, a spot starter on last year’s team. “It got our heads where they should be.”
“They got thrown into the fire really quickly,” Torrington coach Eric Gamari said. “It told them, either we’re going to make changes (in the way we play) to get better or succumb to being a mediocre team.”
The lessons continued through the Raiders’ first two wins, joining together to overcome a 38-point Seymour school record by Wildcat star Dion Perkins, then hanging on through a miserable second half against St. Paul Catholic last Friday.
Monday, against a Wolcott team (1-7; 1-5 NVL) with similar problems after graduating four of its starters from last year’s 13-7 team, most of Torrington’s heads stayed straight — especially on defense — while Calabrese carried the bulk of the offense.
“We’re building momentum while playing more as a team. We’re more disciplined,” Calabrese said.
Friday against St. Paul, Torrington built a big first-quarter lead on can’t-miss shooting from outside. Monday, just one Raider, Nick Balducci (11 points) made a three while momentum carried Torrington from an early deficit to 15-13 lead into the second period.
Speed and defense pushed the Red Raider train through a 14-3 second quarter and, this time, there was no second-half collapse.
The best the Eagles could do was clear the tracks in the second quarter as Calabrese and Brian Ballesteros (10 points, 8 of them in the second quarter) dug in on offense while they and the rest of the team ball-hawked Wolcott into submission.
Charlie Mathieu had two of Torrington’s four steals for the quarter, turning one of them into a Ballesteros fast break. Ballesteros and Calabrese each went coast-to-coast with steals of their own.
Eagles high-scorer Ty Goldberg (18 points, two 3s) accounted for Wolcott’s only basket of the quarter.
Calabrese and the Raider defense stayed super-active in the second half, upping the 29-17 first-half lead to 41-29 after three, then rolling home for the win.
Thanks often to great passes inside to Calabrese, the junior forward was the sole Raider at the foul line, sinking 12 of his 17 free throws.
“We’re still trying to figure things out,” Wolcott coach Matt Craig said. “We’ve got some talent, but we need to put the whole thing together for 32 minutes.”
Monday, Torrington set that 32-minute bar for themselves.