By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – This Friday marks round one between the Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern boys basketball squads.
Both teams were on a bit of a losing streak to open Jan. as of press time, the Lancers had yet to pick up a victory in the New Year while the Rams earned a win over New Britain – something both squads have in common.
Ultimately, what could this game come down to?
Perhaps it will be location.
The Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium could be the lynchpin in what leads Eastern to a badly needed victory.
But let’s look into this intriguing showdown between the crosstown rivals:
Bristol Central at Bristol Eastern
Time and Location: Friday, Jan. 20 at 6:45 p.m., Bristol Eastern High School (Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium)
The Series between the squads: The Rams leads the all-time series, 64-53. This is the 118th showdown between the schools.
Players to Watch: Bristol Eastern – Rod Jenkins (sr, guard, 18.9 points-per-game, 5.6 rebounds-per-game, 3.4 assists-per-game), Jake Violette (sr, forward, 5.8 ppg); Carter Dziedzic (so, forward, 6.3 ppg); Tom Gonzales (sr, center, 6.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.6 blocks-per-game); Tyler Mason (jr, guard, 4.1 ppg); Justin Blake (sr, center, 1.8 rpg), Matt D’Amato (fr, guard), Mac Goblet (jr, guard), Camryn Tate (jr, guard), Ariza Kolloverja (jr, guard/forward), Rajon Collins (sr, forward/center); Bristol Central – Aaron Collins (sr, forward); Isaiah Miller (jr, guard), Jaekwon Spencer (jr, forward/center, 17.5 ppg); Michael Lemke (sr, guard/forward); Alex Bernier (jr, forward/center); Dathan Hickey (jr, guard ), Ed Irizarry (sr, forward), Noah Plantamuro (jr, guard), Alex Lape (jr, forward), Luis Diaz (sr, forward).
Bristol Eastern’s Record: At press time, the Lancers were 3-7.
Bristol Central’s Record: The Rams were 4-6.
Why Bristol Central could win: Central can flat out rebound the ball and that spells trouble for Eastern, especially in terms of the offensive glass.
Opponents were averaging about double the offensive rebounds Eastern snares this year and second chance points will doom the Lancers if Spencer and Bernier crash in on the boards.
Central’s defense hasn’t been too shabby either as Miller and Hickey used their speed to slow down opposing guards.
Those two always seem to get their hands on the ball.
Lemke is a big game player as well and even though his stats don’t scream at you, he will make the right play just about all the time.
Spencer of course is an inside-outside threat and his quickness to the hoop – when he’s not hitting three-pointers that is – could be a problem match-up wise for the Lancers.
Central can and will take three’s and if Aaron Collins is in the line-up for the Rams, his long-range shooting is a big-time weapon.
Bernier is a big presence in the interior while the hyper Irrizarry will also crash the board with zest.
Alex Lape will spell the starters for a couple minutes and plays with smarts and Diaz could be a factor as well.
If Central can simply pile the points on the scoreboard – to the tune of 55-60 – Eastern will have a huge hill to climb.
Why Bristol Eastern could win: Off last season, who is the pressure on in this game?
Certainly not on Eastern and it’s going to be that under the radar approach that could be an underlying factor for the home squad.
Simply put, where would Eastern be without Rod Jenkins this year?
He does a little of everything for the Lancers and when he’s not playing too fast for his own good, Jenkins, most nights, is the best player on the court.
Jenkins averages about 19 points-per-game and isn’t afraid to take the big shot.
He’s second on the team in rebounding, first in steals and assists and his quickness changes the pace of the game in an instant.
Big Tom Gonzalez doesn’t block every shot but his 2.6 rejections a game is clutch ad he’ll alter many more attempts when opponents operate in the lane.
He’s also averaging 8.0 rebounds-per-game and can hit the open outside jumper or put up a sweeping hook shot to score his points.
The Jenkins/Gonzales duo is the best free throw shooters on the team.
If Central uses its typical zone defense, it might be a little difficult for senior gun slinger Jake Violette to put up his normal array of three-point bombs but if his shot is falling, the Rams could be in for a long night.
Tyler Mason is another important cog in both the offense and defense for the Lancers, averaging about five points and five rebounds a contest while the biggest contributor on the squad could come from sophomore Carter Dziedzic.
Dziedzic also does a little of everything and his defense and spacing will be necessary on both sides of the ball.
Coming off an injury, Dziedzic and Eastern are still trying to get back that early season chemistry that was lost.
Add in a little defense by Justin Blake off the Eastern pine and the squad is ready for the big game.
Why Bristol Central could lose: If Central decides to start chucking up the long-ball, it could be damaging to the squad’s chances of winning.
When Central is in attack mode, getting into the paint, Spencer and Bernier are tough to stop.
In this day and age, it’s easy to fall in love with three-pointers but when the Rams defeated Maloney early in the season, it was the offense down-low that helped turn the game around.
And this city series game can’t become a slop fest.
If Central wants to up-tempo the event, its best to keep those turnovers locked in a vault somewhere safe.
Why Bristol Eastern could lose: Eastern must put the ball in the hoop.
After starting the year at 3-2, the Lancers dropped its next four games – shooting a dismal 30-percent from the field and 21-percent from downtown, averaging 34.8 ppg – during that stretch.
The Lancers must score fifty over more to have a shot in this epic confrontation.
Remember the movie “Speed” with the runaway bus from 1994?
Eastern must follow that exact same game-plan: 50, stay above 50 (that’s in terms of points for Eastern, not miles per hour).
X-Factor: For Central, it’s Hickey and his offense, plain and simple.
If he scores, getting points by finishing at the hoop, the Rams are going to take this game.
We all know about Central’s defense but the guards MUST score some points.
Hickey can finish and his offense will go a long way in a Central victory.
And if Eastern falls for the intangibles that Miller provides every game, shame on Eastern.
For Eastern, it’s the bench play that will be the major factor.
What will the Eastern bench provide in this game?
It will be all hands on deck whether its Mac Goulet helping out for stretches at a time or freshman Matt D’Amato providing a little ball control.
Same thing goes for guard Camryn Tate.
Could Nate Silva slip in a big three-pointer to change the tide of the game or does the contest call for a quick burst from Ariza Kolloverja?
Again, it has to be all hands on deck approach.