The chase is over. The Plainville boys basketball ran down a goal that has eluded them for the past eight seasons qualifying for the Class V state tournament. The Blue Devils reached the magic mark of eight wins on Thursday surviving a gritty 38-36 overtime win against Bristol Eastern.
“This is a big accomplishment for us,” said Dane Stephens. “We have worked hard for this for a long time. It’s been a while since we’ve been in the states and all that hard work has paid off.”
A players resolve can be quite an immovable force especially when the odds are stacked against you. The Plainville boys came into the season chasing history that included an eight-year span since they last played in the state tournament during the 2010-2011 season.
The Blue Devils had won just one game over a two-year span and if that wasn’t enough of a hurdle to overcome they were entrenched in a league (CCC) that is filled with larger class schools that makes the journey seem straight uphill.
Repeat after me. Never under any circumstances are you to look at an opponents record as an indication of the competition that will take place out on the court. When you put on a uniform and step out onto the court all bets are off.
Plainville showed that earlier in the season when they dropped four games by a total of 16 points against teams that had winning records. What did that mean? It meant that the Blue Devils were in it for the long haul regardless of the outcome.
That tenacity and internal fortitude has served them well down the stretch winning two of the last three games in what head coach Jim DiNello likes to refer to as the, sooner or later the scoreboard will flip for us, scenario.
“You learn a lot from tough losses,” said DiNello. “We’ve certainly had our share of them. Early on we had four losses by a total of 16 points and we talked about how that kind of adversity would help us grow.”
Last Friday against 3-9 Middletown the Blue Devils trailed 44-43 with time running out. Alec Couture scored his only basket of the game with 22 seconds left to play and the three-pointer was the difference maker in a 46-44 victory.
Dane Stephens led the way with 13 points. Javan Paradis added 11 points and Sam Lestini contributed 10 points to give Plainville three double-digit scorers and pushed them to within one game of reaching the post season.
On Thursday Feb 7 the 7-9 Blue Devils went up against the 4-12 Lancers of Bristol Eastern and a battle of wills ensued. Plainville just couldn’t shake the pesky Lancers as this contest went down to the wire.
“There were three times late in the game that it would have been very easy to say it’s over,” said DiNello. “But I saw something in this team even with just seconds left there was no sense of panic. That shows the kind of growth that we’ve made as a team.”
Plainville came out of a time out with just 15 seconds left in regulation trailing by a basket 34-32. Paradis drove the lane and threw up a shot that rolled around the rim and out. For the second time in the last three games Couture delivered the goods securing the rebound and tossing in the put back with 2 seconds left sending the game to overtime.
Lestini knocked down one of two at the free throw line in the overtime session to put the Blue Devils out in front. Stephens pulled up at the top of the key and drained a three-pointer to open up a 38-34 advantage.
With 1:22 to go the Lancers Connor Donahue drove the lane for a bucket to make it a 38-36 nail biter. Both teams had their chances down the stretch but in a defensive struggle points were held to a minimum.
The Lancers had possession looking to tie the game and with 4 seconds on the clock Trini Otero charged down the lane tossing up a shot but was called for an offensive foul.
Plainville had the inbounds under the Lancers basket but the ball was knocked away and Peyton Warnat fell on the loose ball as the buzzer sounded.
“I saw the loose ball out there and knew I needed to make the play,” said Warnat. “It was a great feeling to hear that buzzer going off. We worked real hard to get to this position and now we are on to the states.”
For this group of seven seniors it was a long time coming as they celebrated on their home court the sweetest victory in their high school career.
Earlier in the contest Bristol Eastern was threatening to take over the game building five point advantages but both times Warnat set up behind the three-point arc and buried the shot. The Blue Devils were on top at the break 19-13.
Plainville went five minutes without a basket in the third quarter that turned a comfortable 24-13 lead into a Lancers 27-24 advantage. Paradis managed to come up with a steal and take it the length of the floor for a bucket sending the Blue Devils into the final quarter down 27-26.
Stephens led the way with 8 points and 4 rebounds. Couture had 7 points and 6 rebounds with Paradis and Warnat chipping in with 6 points each. Ben Dougherty and Lestini added 4 points each with Brady Callahan scoring 3 points, hauling in 5 rebounds and dishing off 3 assists.
“Credit to Bristol Eastern,” said DiNello. “They worked hard and played right till the very end. It was tremendous basketball game played by two teams that worked hard on defense.”
“It’s all about trying to grow as a team and as an athlete. Adversity can be your friend if you handle it the right way.”
Plainville will be at Bristol Central on Tuesday and at Farmington on Friday before returning home next Tuesday Feb 19 for a senior night celebration against Wolcott Tech at 6:45.