By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Eastern boys hoops squad ended the 2016 portion of its campaign on a high note as the outfit defeated Rockville 57-48 in a Central Connecticut Conference Interdivisional battle from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium on New Years Eve.
Eastern moved to 3-2 on the campaign, already one game better than last season (2-18), with the win while Rockville fell to 0-4.
It was the last ever CCC meeting between the schools as the Rams are heading to the NCCC next season but the final battle between the schools was a memorable one and in doubt to the very end.
In fact, it was just a one-possession game with 53.6 seconds to go and the Rams were threatening to even things up.
The squad proceeded to miss a game-tying three late while the Lancers canned six straight free throws to ice the contest.
“Unfortunately for these guys, I want them to be perfect all the time,” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray of his squad. “I think they did a pretty good job. I was going a little crazy hoping we saw some passes that could have probably relived that pressure a little bit to make it easier for us. But all in all, we were strong with the ball down the stretch. Those are games we lost last year that we found a way to win this year.”
Eastern point guard/shooting guard/Mr. Everything Rod Jenkins blasted home a season high 31 points to lead the home charge.
The 31 points was the highest scoring output since Kevin Love dropped 33 on Plainville back on Jan. 8, 2013.
Since 1981, only seven players have scored 30 or more points in a game for Eastern and Jenkins added his name to that exclusive list.
He also canned the first 16 free throws he took, added eight rebounds, three assists and four steals to his outstanding totals.
“Rod was everything tonight,” said Ray of Jenkins. “He got to the basket, he did what we asked. He attacked, the floor was open and Rockville did not have an inside presence. Rod smelled blood and he went to the basket. He made strong moves. In the beginning of the year, he was making moves but not finishing them up. Now, he’s starting to finish around the basket, making stronger moves and is also involving his teammates.”
“Unfortunately, we didn’t convert a lot of those easy baskets that he created for us.”
Tyler Mason collected 13 points, eight rebounds, while Jake Violette and Justin Blake (three rebounds, three steals) each notched three points.
Off the pine, Nate Silva canned a huge three and freshman Matt D’Amato hit a hoop as well.
Cam Tate, Rajon Collins, and Mac Goulet all spelled the starters and filled in nicely during the winning endeavor.
“I thought our bench did a good job down the stretch,” said Ray. “It allowed us to rest [Jenkins] and also provided us a spark. Nate Silva hit a big three. It was a momentum shifter. D’Aamto handled the ball [well]. Cam Tate and Rajon Collins were solid.”
Mason Resendes and Lorenzo Percy each scored 10 points for Rockville and that even offense helped the visitors hang around in the showdown.
In fact, once big men Jake Cichon (injury) and Percy (fouls) left the game, the Rams went to a five-guard line-up that saw all the players shoot – and make – long bombs.
Resendes scored eight of his 10 points over the final 4:50 of the stanza to give his squad a chance to steal the game.
“We had a match-up problem,” said Ray. “It wasn’t offensively [but] they were exploiting us on defense. When we went big, they went small. Actually, one of their best players got injured and it hurt us more than it helped us because we had better match-ups until he went out.”
Eastern started the first quarter on a 6-0 jaunt but pesky Rockville closed the deficit to one before two Jenkins free throws gave the home squad a 9-6 edge eight minutes into things.
Collins found Mason for a lay-up to push the Lancers lead out to 13-8 with 6:25 to go in the second tilt but Rams went on a bit of a run.
An 8-0 push, including three-point bombs from Joe Santing and Zach Woods gave the squad its only lead in the game at 16-13 with 4:22 remaining before the half.
But Jenkins carried his squad in all of the team’s points in a 9-3 half ending run and went the senior kicked in two free throws, Eastern carried a 22-19 edge into the locker room.
Violette opened the third stanza with a 3 and leading by two midway through the period, Eastern made another run.
This time a 10-2 dash by Eastern – highlighted by a three from Silva – gave the Lancers a 35-25 lead with 4:39 to go in the third.
That edge ballooned to 12 off an offensive rebound and put-back from Mason and when Jenkins hit two foul shots to end the third, Eastern was in charge at 44-33 with eight minutes left.
Rockville hung around and chopped the deficit off another three. But when Mason canned a lay-up with 3:03 to play, the Lancers were in front 50-41 and a hoop away from putting the thing out of reach.
Then Eastern went into stall mode and forced Rockville to foul.
However, as the Lancers misfired on five of six attempts from the line, the Rams went on the attack.
Resendes hit a three, found Jake Rinaldi for a hoop and when Rockville canned consecutive free throws, it was a 50-48 game, via a 7-0 spurt, to chop the deficit to two with 1:13 to go in regulation.
But as Eastern made seven consecutive charity shots to end the game, Rockville did not score over the final 73 seconds of the event as the makes by Jenkins and Mason propelled Eastern to the nine-point lead late.
“The free throws down the stretch were big,” said Ray. “That’s what keeps the [opposing] team at an arm’s length and once you get one stop, you can start to see the momentum shift. The biggest play is when Rockville fired up a couple three-pointers at the end after we made the free throws.”
“That allowed us to really ice the game.”
And with the win, the Lancers reached over the .500 barrier and rolled into the 2017 portion of the schedule.
“I thought Tyler and Rod, especially from the free throw line, was outstanding,” said Ray. “And that’s under fatigue. That’s our third game in four days. Rod’s played a ton of minutes. He’s asked to handle the ball, defend, [and] do everything. The kids have a day off tomorrow [for New Years’ Day] and I don’t think anybody deserves it more than him.”
NOTES…The other players since 1981 to reach the 30-point plateau for the Lancers (some did it multiple times) are Sean Fitzgerald (career-high 31), Jon Capodi (33), Brenden Crowell (35), Cody Bayne (33), Tylon Holmes (30), Eli Rodriguez (school record 46), and Kevin Love (33).