By KEN MORSE
In the game of basketball, there are many factors that determine the outcome on the scoreboard. No team plays the perfect game. Shots rattle the rim, free throws are missed, outlet passes become turnovers, but in the end it’s the team that makes the least amount of mistakes that usually prevails.
Sometimes games are a lot closer than the final score would indicate. There are opponents that you just don’t match up well with. Some teams have a distinct height advantage while others possess the kind of speed you just can’t contend with.
When all is said and done there is a fine line between winning and losing. But none of this factors into the heart and character of a team that has the desire to compete and the will to win.
The Plainville boys basketball team is on an arduous journey this season as they chase that elusive win that would put an end to any doubt that may have crept in over the long trek.
Five times over the 11 game span the 1-10 Blue Devils have been on the doorstep of victory only to see the door not open. A couple of times, it was against teams that had sterling records.
Early in the season, it was a heart breaking 38-37 set back to an 8-4 SMSA squad from Hartford. Two weeks ago Plainville took on the 10-2 Enfield Eagles. The Blue Devils trailed 63-49 going into the final quarter and battled back to outscore the Eagles 22-15 but wound up on the short end of a 78-72 final.
In spite of the loss, there were encouraging signs as four players scored in double digits a clear indication of a team on the verge of turning the corner. Ben Dougherty led the way with 21 points and Sam Lestini knocked down 17 points. Jailen Lindsey and Brady Callahan both checked in with 10 points each.
Last week, Plainville struggled to get the offense going as they lost lopsided contests to Conard 65-23 and New Britain 61-33. On Saturday, the Blue Devils had an opportunity to ramp it back up again taking on Berlin.
For 28 minutes, the Blue and White battled the Redcoats with Berlin holding a slight 49-46 advantage. But it was the first four minutes of the second quarter that decided the game when Berlin went on a 15-0 run to take over the game and come away with a 64-46 win.
“Sometimes when we are behind by four or five points we play like we are trailing by 20 and we begin to panic and that’s a maturity thing,” said Plainville head coach Jim DiNello. “We threw the ball away four times in the opening minutes of that quarter and they scored on each mistake.”
Callahan (14 points) came out and hit back-to-back threes to give Plainville a quick 6-0 advantage at the start of the game. Dane Stephens (four rebounds, four assists) was getting it done down the other end of the court with two rebounds and a block in the opening minutes.
Berlin put together a run of their own led by Holden Murphy (16 points) and Gianni Fanelli (14) points to take over the lead at 8-6. The Blue Devils got it back when Dougherty (11 points) drove the lane for a bucket and Lestini (17 points) went to the rack for two to open up a 10-8 lead.
It was all Berlin over the next four and half minutes and when Plainville finally broke the scoring drought at 3:32 left in the half the Redcoats were well out in front by a wide 26-12 margin.
“We talk about this in practice everyday,” said DiNello. “Discipline, taking as long as it takes to get a good shot and not trying to force it especially against a zone defense. I think we tried to force things in that second quarter. We had four turnovers, got outrebounded and took some bad shots.”
“Taking bad shots is a wasted possession. Glass half full, I think in the second half we did a much better job taking great shots. We did a much better job letting the game come to us instead of us chasing the game. We just don’t have the kind of team where someone can take over a game.”
Time and time again the Blue Devils tried to get it inside to Lestini but Berlin was attacking the glass sending two and three players to the boards. That opened up the transition game and by the time Callahan threw down a put back Plainville was chasing a double-digit deficit.
It didn’t help that Berlin was coming down with most of the rebounds (28-14 edge on the boards). Coach DiNello went to the bench to infuse a little more speed into the lineup bringing on Pierre Ramirez, Will Cross, and Ryan Snyder.
Jason Mills and Alec Couture were added to bang the glass to try and wrestle away a rebound or two. But Berlin continued to run the floor and went into the break with a commanding 32-17 lead.
If there was a white towel within arms reach most teams would have thrown it onto the court at that point. But Plainville is not most teams. The Blue Devils came out in the second half with a fire in their belly and showed the desire of a team with the will to win.
Lestini went to work and started to go hard to the basket and on most occasions carried two and three Redcoats with him. The junior center picked up the pace and dropped 10 points through the cylinder in the third quarter.
“Sam’s decision making in the second half was excellent,” said DiNello. “He made a couple of great rips through the lane. Overall, we did a much better job in the second half.”
Berlin still held a 48-32 lead heading into the final quarter. Tyler Davis came on to provide another shooter out on the perimeter. Callahan threw down a three from the top of the key, Stephens hit both ends of a one and one at the line and with 5:21 to play the Blue Devils had climbed back into it trailing 48-38.
But that would be as close as they got as the 15 point second quarter run was still haunting them. Berlin held a 16-10 advantage down the stretch pulling away to a 64-46 win.
“Defensively, I thought we did a better job in half court during the second half,” said DiNello. “Once we get behind, it’s tough for us to make up. I liked our attitude in the second half. The kids really took to what we talked about at halftime and gave it their best. We got some younger guys some valuable minutes. You have to give Berlin credit they have some really good players. It’s more of what Berlin did and not what we didn’t do.”
Over the next two weeks, Plainville will play four of six games on their home court. Whether that will be a recipe for success and a chance to get back in the win column remains to be seen. But three of those games will be against opponents with a less than .500 records and it could very well be teams that the Blue Devils can match up with.
The journey continues this week as Plainville will be at Platt on Monday before hosting a tough Middletown team on Thursday and a Saturday home game against 10-3 Bristol Central.
PHOTOS by KEN MORSE