By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL - When the game was on the line for the Bristol Central boys basketball team against Bristol Eastern on Monday, Feb. 24, the Rams floor general had to take command of the showdown.
That meant senior Joey DeFillippi needed to spring into action offensively.
After tallying just one point over the first 25:23 of the contest, DeFillippi’s offense directly led to the 37-33 victory.
He flipped in a huge lay-up with 6:37 left to play and off his 10-point fourth period scoring onslaught, DeFillippi was as clutch as anyone on the court that night.
“Joey struggled all night and then he hit the shot off the backboard to tie it and the rest of the game pretty much his,” said Central coach Timmy Barrette of DeFillippi. “Joey DeFiliippi iced this game for us. That’s what a senior, two-year captain does.”
He led the squad with 11 points and his lay-in with 5:38 remaining in the game tied the thing at 28-28 apiece and made it a brand new game.
And then, when DeFillippi was forced to the free throw line, he made Eastern pay as he canned four of six shots from the charity stripe in the period.
With the contest on the line, Barrette knew he could count on his experienced floor leader.
“He’s a three-year starter,” said Barrette of DeFillippi. “He’s struggled shooting the ball lately but you know what, I didn’t want anyone else on the line. Every play we drew up was for him and I have all the faith in the world in him.”
“Once he hit those two (free throws with 16.2 seconds left to go, it helped) seal the game.”
But DeFillippi uncharacteristically missed two free throws and one such disconnect came with 35.8 seconds remaining and the Rams clinging to a 34-31 edge.
It was no problem as fellow captain Jake Collins nabbed an offensive rebound and Central reset its offense with a three-point cushion in hand.
“Jake, big rebound,” said Barrette of the Collins offensive carom.
DeFillippi quickly made another free throw and Central made it a two possession game.
Collins didn’t score a single point over the final 11:14 of the game but his defense was ever present.
Some of that was due to his foul trouble. Even when he came back into the game with 4:27 left to go, Collins missed his first shot of the stanza off an inside attempt.
But the rebounding was there and his presence in the lane loomed big down the stretch.
He zipped in 10 points and. Meanwhile, he didn’t notch a double-figure rebounding total that night, the rebounds he did snatch were huge.
“He’s probably going to get All State honors this year and he well deserves it,” said Barrette of Collins. “I don’t know what he finished with tonight but it was probably pretty close to a double-double. I believe he’s had double-doubles in 15 or 16 out of 18 games.”
Throw in 13 to 14 rebounds a game and add in 16, 17 points a night, and that’s a heavy duty double-double the senior sensation is cranking out just about every night.
And once the final horn sounded and Central had beaten the Lancers by just four points, the Rams denied Eastern a shot at state tournament qualification.
“Obviously, you have that in the back of your mind (of keeping the Lancers out of the tournament picture) but the task at hand was to defeat Bristol Eastern,” said Barrette. “It was a crowded gym, great atmosphere, (it was) hot, but we took care of the task at hand.”
“We knew it would not be easy so give (Eastern) a lot of credit because they did a great job tonight with their game plan and execution.”
This big season was long overdue for Central as the 17 wins was the most under Barrette’s watch.
In 2007-08, the Rams were just a game out of the CCC South championship chase but Central simply couldn’t duplicate that kind of success over the seasons after that.
In 2010-11, the Rams went 7-13 overall. Meanwhile, one campaign later – with this senior group as sophomores – Central was 8-13 but just 5-9 in CCC South play.
Last year, Central finished a credible 12-10 but nowhere near the top of the CCC south standings.
But 2013-14 was the Rams’ year and the 17-3 regular season record is proof of that very fact.
And a 12-2 CCC South ledger – tied along with Middletown – proved to be the standard in league play.
“This group took their lumps,” said Barrette. “I started a lot of these guys as sophomores, played a lot of minutes. We were 8-12. Then we went to 12-8 and now we’re finishing the year at 17-3.”
“Hopefully, we’ll put together a nice little run in the state tournament.”
Both the Rams and Middletown will share the CCC South titles and it means another banner will be going up in the Bristol Central Gym.
“Last night after practice, the last thing we did was look up on the wall (at Bristol Central) and see the last banner was in 2003, so it’s been a long time for Bristol Central,” said Barrette of the elusive CCC South championship. “We’ve been competitive, we’ve made the state tournament five out of my seven years. We’ve been there but this is the first time we’ve been up in this position.”
The first round of the CCC Tournament took place on Thursday, Feb. 27 and the Rams were right in the thick of things.
Ranked second, Central took on #15 Glastonbury in a contest played in Bristol.
However, things did not go as planned as the Rams fell to the Tomahawks by a 63-59 final.
Here’s how first round action went for the sixteen teams in the fray:
First Round Parings
No. 16 Bulkeley at No. 1 New Britain
*The Golden Hurricanes won it by nine, 65-56.
No. 15 Glastonbury at No. 2 Bristol Central
*Glastonbury scored a 63-59 upset; Jalen Ollie dropped in 23 points. Meanwhile, Manny Severino notched a game-high 25 in the losing effort.
No. 14 East Hartford at No. 3 Windsor
*The Warriors zipped up a 77-64 victory over the Hornets.
No. 13 Rockville at No. 4 Edwin O. Smith
*The Panthers snuck by Rockville 44-41.
No. 12 Bloomfield at No. 5 Hartford Public
*Public won it, 60-48.
No. 11 Maloney at No. 6 East Catholic
*The Spartans pulled off a 72-69 victory in overtime.
No. 10 Farmington at No. 7 Simsbury
*Simsbury was a 56-50 winner over the Indians.
No. 9 Weaver at No. 8 Middletown
*The Beavers buzzed up a 79-68 upset on the road in Middletown.