By KEN MORSE
The improvement of the Plainville boys basketball team may not show up in their win-loss record, but from the start of the season the Blue Devils have grown by leaps and bounds.
Several times this season, Plainville was knocking at the door only to have victory remain just out of their reach. You can teach a zone defense, you can teach man-to-man coverage, but the one thing you can’t teach is height, the one area where victory may have eluded the Blue Devils.
Plainville celebrated senior night last Friday honoring cheerleader Rachel Collins, forward Jailen Lindsey and team manager Jeremy Myska. The Blue Devils took on Bristol Central in a rematch, after the Rams outshot Plainville to the tune of 74-59 on Jan. 9th.
Victory was just out of reach again as Bristol Central pulled away to a 57-40 win in a game that was a lot closer than the final score would indicate. Alex Bernier led the Rams with 17 points. Jaekwon Spencer added 13 points and Dathan Hickey 12 points to pace Bristol Central.
Over the last six games, the Blue and White have held opponents in the 50’s in five games giving Plainville a chance to compete for a victory. For the most part, usually a team that is 1-17 has no business being in a competitive game with a 14-3 team but the Blue Devils are not the usual team.
They hustle, they play with heart, and they leave it all out there on the court. The Rams found that out in the first half when they just couldn’t seem to shake loose from Plainville clinging to a 26-24 halftime lead.
The height advantage finally wore down Plainville as Bristol Central pulled away in the second half outscoring the Blue Devils by a 31-16 margin. The Rams owned a 33-13 advantage on the boards and converted seven put backs, a 14 point swing that dictated the outcome of the game.
A foundation was built that has seen the Blue Devils three-quarters of the way there. Last Thursday in a tough loss to University 75-63, Plainville was in the game for three quarters including a come from behind 23-12 fourth quarter. But it was the one quarter, the Blue Devils couldn’t quite finish in the third as University took away the game with a 29-10 output.
Dane Stephens poured in 19 points with Sam Lestini adding 17 points and Ben Dougherty chipping in with 10 points. Plainville was very much in the game trailing 34-30 at the half but University came out and took over the third quarter leading them to victory.
Against Bristol Central, Lestini knocked down nine points with Brady Callahan eight points and four assists along with Tyshawn Johnson eight points, three assists leading the way for the Blue and White.
“It felt like it was definitely Plainville’s pace in the first half,” said Bristol Central head coach Tim Barrette. “Let’s give them credit. They obviously did a great job in the triangle and two and we were frustrated.”
Lindsey put down a three-pointer to get the game started and Dougherty (seven points) hit a shot from the corner. When Dougherty drained a three out on the wing Plainville was out in front 8-4 with 2:51 left in the opening quarter and the Rams were heading to a timeout to try and figure what was going wrong.
“Jailen has a passion for the game and his teammates and will be sorely missed next season,” said Plainville head coach Jim DiNello. “His influence has been tremendous on this team.”
“We came out and played hard in the first half. Defensively, we took three charges and that took away three possessions. Our offense feeds off our defense and we did a much better job than we did the first time we faced them.”
Alec Couture and Pierre Ramirez came on to help Plainville build a 10-9 first quarter lead. But Bristol Central started to gain the upper hand in the paint with four put backs in the second quarter and held a 17-7 advantage on the boards by the half.
“As a senior my job is to stay positive no matter what and to help everyone stay on task,” said Lindsey. “It’s a great feeling to be part of this team over the last four years. I think next season if they continue to work hard they will be even better. They have a lot of potential.”
In spite of the Rams inside game Plainville had a spark in their step with freshman TyShawn Johnson showing the agility and quickness to get the ball up court. The Blue Devils kept on battling and trailed 26-24 at the half.
“We are still trying to get some consistency,” said DiNello. “We felt this week that TyShawn is finally ready. He is only three-quarters through his freshman season and he already is showing a fearless approach.”
Plainville came out in the second half and missed the first three shots allowing the Rams to pull away to a 32-24 advantage. The Blue Devils kept fighting and by the end of the quarter it was only a 38-31 deficit.
It was still anyone’s game with 4:06 to play when Johnson sank both ends of a one and one at the line with Plainville chasing a 46-38 lead. By the time the Blue Devils got one to go in again the Rams were well out in front 52-40 at the two minute mark.
“You build on minutes,” said DiNello. “If you can play five good minutes then why can’t you make it 10 minutes or 15 minutes? You hope that gets you to the end mark.”
“At the end of the day, it’s high school basketball and the life lessons you take out of the games is what really matters and out weights the wins and losses.”
The Blue Devils have built a solid core to work with for next season with Callahan, Lestini and Dougherty scoring in double digits on multiple occasions. Stephens and Ramirez have also reached double figures and the development of TyShawn Johnson adds to the experience that Couture, Jason Mills, Ryan Snyder and Nathan Johnson have achieved. Alec Karal, Tyler Davis and Will Cross have also seen varsity minutes and Plainville will not be as inexperienced as they were coming into this season.
The Blue Devils will close out the season this week at Bristol Eastern on Tuesday and at Bulkeley on Friday.
PHOTOS by KEN MORSE