By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – For one half, the Plainville boys basketball team put a real scare into division leading Bristol Central on Saturday, Feb. 15.
The Blue Devils’ offense was outshining the Rams’ typically outstanding defense and that led to a seven-point halftime push for Plainville.
But in the end, Central’s defense was just too tough to overcome as Plainville dropped a tough 73-63 decision from Bristol.
The win propelled Central to 14-3 overall and the Rams remain on top of the CCC South standings at 10-2.
Plainville fell to 2-15 on the campaign but played well, played hard, and never gave an inch to the bigger, Rams.
Central led big early, trailed Plainville by as many as nine points in the second period, which eventually led to the Blue Devils’ surprising 31-24 push at the halftime buzzer.
“That was the best first half we played all year,” said Plainville coach Marc Wesoly. “Against a team that’s first or second place in our division, they have three losses and one was at the buzzer to East Catholic. They beat a very good Farmington team. They’re a very good team.”
“You saw that in the second half…when we went to man (defense), they executed their offense.”
Plainville had just one turnover in the first period, five overall in the first half, and got another huge outing by budding star, junior Austin Butler.
In fact, the talented shooter almost put his team on his back to steal a victory for Plainville.
He blocked a couple shots, made four three-pointers in the ball game, and nearly was everywhere on the court for the Blue Devils.
“He had 31 points and I think he had 10 or 11 rebounds,” said Wesoly of Butler. “He’s a special kid.”
The 31 points were a career high for Butler and the most points any player has scored for the Blue Devils this year.
Butler zipped in 12 points in the first period, two in the second, seven in the third, and tossed in 10 over the final quarter of play.
Eric Fischer added 10 points. Jayden Lococo flipped in nine. Teammate Shane Pugliese dished out big assists in the engagement and chipped in with six.
Starting point guard Mikal Salmon had five points. Andrew Schumann came away with two points via free throws.
The problem was when Central worked the ball inside, Plainville wasn’t able to deal with Central’s length as the squad boasted three players 6-foot-3 or bigger in the front-court.
When the Rams went outside for offense, Plainville was able to rebound and get into its offense quickly thanks to the rebounding of Fischer and Butler.
However, when Central went inside, the Rams were extremely efficient and potent.
“I don’t think they missed one shot when the executed their offense,” said Wesoly of Central.
Most of those points came from big Landon Rutledge as he missed only two of 11 field goal attempts and notched a team-high 19 points to go along with four rebounds during the showdown.
But he made high percentage shots in the paint and connected on every shot he took from the base-line.
Also as important was Manny Severino, playing in a reserve role for Central on the afternoon. He notched an important nine points, six rebounds, and dished out three assists in meaningful stints on the floor.
In terms of plus-minus, a statistic the National Basketball Association uses in all its box scores, Central was a plus-14 when Severino was out on the court.
For the game, Severino played 17 important minutes and his contribution directly led to the winning effort.
Jacob Collins added 16 points and 13 rebounds. L.J. Johnson had 13 points and seven assists. Joey DeFillippi nailed in 11 points and nabbed six rebounds. Ty Hamel added five points and four rebounds for Central.
Central shot 80-percent (8-for-10) in the first quarter, working the ball into and around the paint for lay-ins and short jumpers, and opened the game up with a 10-0 push.
But Butler helped his squad go on a 13-2 burst as his lay-up made it a 13-12 game in Plainville’s favor.
While Central’s defense only forced one Plainville turnover during the first 12 minutes of action, the visiting team continue to shoot – and make – several long shots, three-pointers, and jumpers.
Butler put in a missed hoop, Pugliese found Fischer for a lay-up. Off a Lococo three-point blast, Central was trailing 27-18 with 5:24 left in the half.
The Rams cut it to five off a steal and lay-up from DeFillippi. But a hoop by Salomon and a jumper by Lococo pushed the lead back out to nine again before the teams settled on a 31-24 halftime push that favored the Blue Devils.
Central forced two Plainville turnovers to start the third frame and eventually, that slowed down that lethal offense.
The Blue Devils missed seven of its first eight field goal attempts and Central quickly retook the advantage.
In a matter of six minutes, Central used a suffocating 21-4 burst as Landon finished off the jaunt with three straight hoops and eventually, scored nine straight points to help Central pick up a 48-37 edge with 1:28 remaining in the third period.
“He killed us,” said Wesoly of Landon. “In the third quarter, he scored 15 of his 19 points.
Schumann ended the scoring in the quarter with two free throws. However, Plainville was still trailing at 50-42 with eight minutes to play.
The Blue Devils refused to yield and with 5:11 remaining, Pugliese hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 54-49.
But Collins came alive and with the Rams making critical stops, the Central center put in a hoop off a feed by DeFillippi, zipped in a hoop off his own missed basket and as Severino made two free throws, the home team’s cushion grew to 60-49 with 3:58 to go.
Butler refused to give in and added two hoops off misses.
Salmon later drilled a three-pointer. But with 1:40 left and Plainville trailing 65-56, Central added a couple of insurance tallies.
Collins found Landin for another high percentage make. DeFillippi fired in two additional free throws to make it a 69-56 game with just 41.4 seconds showing on the clock.
Late hoops by Fischer and Pugliese weren’t enough as Johnson hit four straight free throws as the Rams hung on to win it by 10 73-63.
And just as important, Central remains tied with Maloney in the CCC South standings off the win and Barrette’s players knew what was at stake that afternoon – even as the team trailed by seven at intermission.
“That’s the thing about Central, they have so many threats,” said Wesoly. “If Joey’s off, not hitting the shots, they go to Manny driving. They can go to Jake. They have a lot of threats.”
“They’re a team that’s going to do some damage in CCC Tournament along with the state tournament as long as the gel and stay on the same page.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.