Boys Basketball: Blue Devils still on track for tournament

By KEN MORSE

CORRESPONDENT

The Plainville boys basketball team came into the season with a lofty goal of qualifying for the state tournament for the first time in eight seasons.

Through the first 10 games, the 5-5 Blue Devils are more than halfway there and in the process have put themselves in a good spot to claim a bid into the CCC league tournament as well.

It has been a one step forward, one foot back find of season for Plainville as they have left a few games on the table that could have ended up in the win column. That’s what happens in the growing process as four of their losses came by a combined total of 16 points.

“It happens with a program that hasn’t experienced success for a very long time,” said Plainville head coach Jim DiNello. “We find ourselves talking about the little things that could have turned that game around.”

“We have seen some positives this season. It’s good to be able to be very competitive in every game we’ve played. It gives them confidence; but at the same time we need to learn how to win those close games.”

Plainville made significant progress last week putting together its first back-to-back wins in over three seasons. More importantly, those victories took place in the Patriot Division South over rivals Bristol Central 40-36 and Bristol Eastern 64-57.

The Blue Devils’ nemesis this season has been the fourth quarter where four of their losses took place. Plainville reversed that trend against Bristol Central on Friday, Jan. 4.

“The question we have been asking all season is when does the scoreboard flip in our favor,” said DiNello? “When do we start making that one extra play down the stretch that will get us there?”

Plainville trailed by seven points midway through the final quarter before erupting for a 13-2 run to pull out the win over the Eagles. Brady Callahan made sure this one was going to end up in the win column as he dropped 11 of 12 free throws through the cylinder with the game on the line to lead the Blue Devils with 13 points.

Javan Paradis (9 points), Pierre Ramirez (7 points) and Dane Stephens (5 points) threw down timely baskets as Plainville is putting together a solid rotation with five different players taking turns to lead the Blue Devils in scoring.

Alec Couture with 54 points on the season and Ben Dougherty with 47 points have played significant roles in the Plainville offense. Ryan Snyder and Peyton Warnat have made their presence felt with Tanner Callahan, A.J. Lestini and Jason Mills all contributing varsity minutes this season.

Brady Callahan leads the team in scoring at an average of 14.2 per game on 128 points in nine games. Paradis has scored 120 points for an average of 13.3 per game.

“The fact that we are there late in the games is step one,” said DiNello. “Defensively, sometimes the only way to stop a team’s run late is to take a charge. Those are the little things I’m talking about that can be the difference in a game.”

On Monday, Jan. 7 against Bristol Eastern, the Blue Devils built up a 10 point lead. Late in the fourth quarter, the Lancers managed to tie the game. That’s when Sam Lestini stepped in leading to a pair of forced turnovers against the Lancers that changed the outcome of the game.

Lestini was knocking them down in the paint scoring 16 points leading Plainville to a 64-57 win. The 21-point fourth quarter was the highest output of the season for the Blue Devils in the final eight minutes.

Lestini got more than enough help to finish the job with Callahan and Paradis adding 14 points each and Stephens chipping in with 12 points improving the Blue Devils to 2-0 in the Patriot Division South.

“I’m proud of these kids and what they have been able to accomplish so far this season,” said DiNello. “We have shown the ability to put those tough games behind us and go out on the court each night knowing that we can be competitive.”

“They are learning a great life skill to keep persevering and never give up. That’s what life is all about and these kids have shown the heart and charter to succeed and I know as the season goes forward that they have the confidence to be successful.”

Plainville ended the week last Friday with a tough 59-45 setback to RHAM sending the Blue and White into the second half of the season with a 5-5 mark needing just three more W’s to qualify for the state tournament for the first time in eight years.

The Sachems broke out to an 11-5 first quarter lead and put the game away with a 16-8 third quarter. Paradis led Plainville with 10 points; Callahan added nine points with Couture, Ramirez and Dougherty all chipping in with seven points each.

The Blue Devils will get a much needed break having just two games scheduled over a 12 day stretch. Plainville is back in action this week on Tuesday Jan 15 and face a stiff test hosting 7-1 Manchester and the Indians are scoring 80 points per game.

Next week has the Blue Devils at home on Tuesday, Jan. 22 against Conard. Plainville will finish out the month with a pair of games against two of the top teams in the Colonial Division South, Platt, and Middletown.