By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – With the game on the line for the St. Paul boys basketball team, is there anyone else you’d want taking a game winning shot than senior sensation Kyle Dube?
Eight days previous, Dube hit two pressure packed free throws to force a second overtime against Holy Cross in a showdown the Falcons eventually won.
In another dire situation on Saturday, Feb. 2 against Woodland, St. Paul trailed 50-48 with less than 10 seconds remaining.
Off a forced shot by the Hawks and the ensuing chase of the ball, St. Paul took control of the possession as Dube was streaking down the court.
Open on the left side of the court, in front of the Falcons’ bench and several feet behind the three-point line, Dube drilled a huge three-pointer as the St. Paul gym erupted and gave the home team a 51-50 edge with 6.0 seconds left.
“I was running down the court, I got the pass, and once I released it, I knew it was going in,” said Dube of the game winning shot. “Oh man, it feels good. Revenge is sweet.”
But there was still an eternity left on the clock and one additional Woodland field goal would ruin the afternoon for the Falcons after a courageous comeback.
The ball went to the correct player – Woodland’s Dave Uhl – and he was tasked into taking one final attempt.
Uhl, who blasted home a game high 25 points, quickly dribbled up the court and unleashed an 18-foot shot to attempt to retake the lead.
But he threw up an air-ball and with 0.6 seconds remaining St. Paul took possession of the ball.
Off the inbound pass and a quick grab of the ball, the final horn quickly sounded as Dube and his mates were quickly mobbed by an appreciative St. Paul crowd as the Falcons won 51-50 in a Naugatuck Valley League challenge from the Matlby Street Gymnasium in Bristol.
The victory for St. Paul was significant in several ways.
First, the Falcons moved to 8-7 on the season and qualified for the state tournament once again, which was one of the team’s many goals this season.
“Win number eight…yeah, that’s a good one,” said Dude. “We’re going to the (state) tournament.”
The win also avenged an earlier season loss to Woodland as St. Paul dropped a tough 72-53 loss to the squad back on opening night on Dec. 12.
Dube was clutch when he needed to be as he sank 22 points off 24 attempts while canning four three-pointers and snaring five offensive rebounds.
He only hit 33 percent of his shots in the game that afternoon but when the lights were the brightest, Dube was up for the challenge and scored St. Paul’s last six points of the game in a matter of 59.8 seconds after going scoreless over the first seven minutes of the frame.
“Coach (Steve Phelps) just told me to keep shooting,” said Dube. “And I knew when I was running down the court, coach never doubted me when I looked back over (at him).”
Tyler Jones snuck in seven points while Logan Marchi made a critical start and collected six points and 12 rebounds while making two huge put-backs off St. Paul misses.
Marchi had eight rebounds by himself in the first quarter of action.
The Falcons got 14 points from its bench with Jordan Rowley scoring four critical points in the fourth period as St. Paul had to battle back from a couple four point deficits late in the fray.
St. Paul out-rebounded the Hawks by 14 while only committing 11 turnovers in the game.
The lead changed hands 12 times while there were four ties in the contest.
The Falcons led by as many as eight to open the second period while Woodland held a two possession lead several times during the final quarter.
St. Paul’s shot only 33.9 percent from the field and managed to miss nine of 15 free throws.
However, the double tough Falcons just pushed and pushed and pushed until Woodland finally did not push back.
Right off the bat, Dube drilled a three-pointer and the tone of the first quarter was set.
Later in the period, Marchi tipped in a miss and Dube hit another three as St. Paul built a nine-point edge before the teams settled on a 16-10 Falcons’ push.
But off a good shooting start – St. Paul hit six of its first 13 field goals – the Falcons nailed only one of its final five shots to end the first frame and then proceeded to miss 10 of its first 11 opportunities to open the second as Woodland eventually snagged the lead.
Trailing 19-12, the Hawks used a 9-0 push to capture a 21-19 tally as a three-pointer by Tanner Kingsley gave the visitors a 21-19 edge with 2:10 left before the half.
Nick Villani canned a big three-pointer for the Falcons late in the half before a controversial lay-up from Stephen Baeder at the buzzer propelled the Hawks to a 25-24 halftime lead.
Dube was back at it again in the third period as he scored seven of St. Paul’s first 10 points in the tilt as Dube hit a three-pointer, drove home a quick dunk, while hitting two free throws to give St. Paul a 34-31 lead with 2:51 left in the stanza.
The Hawks regained the lead late in the period but one last three-pointer from Jake Kawiecki (four points) gave St. Paul the edge once again as the Falcons led 37-36 going into the final eight minutes of action.
In a very entertaining final quarter, the lead fluctuated from team to team before a three-pointer by Uhl and a hoop from Rahmi Rountree gave the visitors a 45-41 push with 4:43 left.
Rowley came in and scored four straight points for St. Paul but with under 1:30 remaining and still trailing by a bucket, the Falcons made its collective move.
Villani threw in what looked like a go-ahead three but it went three-quarters of the way down and amazingly popped back out as the Falcons were forced to foul Woodland.
Uhl nailed two free throws with 1:20 left before Dube hit a quick hoop to cut the deficit to 49-47 with under a minute to go.
Dube was also fouled in the act but missed the charity shot.
Kirk Chamenko grabbed the rebound for Woodland, was quickly fouled, but went 1-for-2 at the line as the visitors’ lead was pushed out to 50-47 with 52 seconds left.
Brendan Carroll had a shot at it on the other end, had his attempt blocked but got the rebound, was fouled and made 1-of-2 free throws to trim the deficit to 50-48 with 30.7 remaining.
But off the second miss from the line, Marchi eventually got an offensive rebound but missed both attempts as the Hawks still led by two.
With 17.6 showing on the clock, Rountree was fouled. But Woodland was not yet in the bonus and had to inbound the ball.
Off the Hawk’s inbound play, Rountree swooped to the hoop for a big insurance hoop but his low arching shot missed, and eventually Carroll nabbed the rebound.
Seconds later, Dube calmly sank home the game winning three to ice things and propelled St. Paul to victory number eight in an improbable 51-50 win from Bristol.
But even as the Falcons qualified for postseason play, the talented Dube knows there’s more work to be done before the completion of the regular season.
“This is a big win,” said Dube. “We had a tough loss this week (to Thomaston). The way we respond to challenges, this team, we’re very resilient. When we get pushed against the wall and we’re on the ground, we’re ready to go.”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE