By MICHAEL LETENDRE
GROTON – Thanks to all the recent snow, the scholastic teams around the Mum City have not been able to get out and practice due to the schools being closed.
But the boys basketball squad from Bristol Central didn’t look very rusty in a non-conference affair against Fitch of Groton on the road.
Nursing a two-point at the half, the Rams’ rebounding and defense came through over the second 16 minutes of play as Central sank Fitch 60-45 from Groton on Saturday, Jan. 6.
The win was Central coach Tim Barrette’s 100th for the program.
Fitch (1-5) hardly played like a one-win squad and was very physical against Central (3-3) with full-court pressure, traps, and other defenses but it led to just 10 turnovers overall.
“It’s not a normal look,” said Central coach Tim Barrette of Fitch. “And I’m going to tell you this, I thought we did a good job for not practicing for two days. We haven’t been able to prepare for this and it’s not a normal look with [Fitch’s] traps and their energy.”
Central landed shots from the outside as Noah Plantamuro (12 points, four rebounds) canned four 3-pointers while Justus Fitzgerald – making the start in the second half – hit two three’s for six total points.
But it was the play of the big men in the line-up that helped grab and keep the lead throughout the showdown.
Jaekwon Spencer (game-high 21 points, eight rebounds), Alex Brenier (10 points, six rebounds, two assists), Alex Lape (four points, six rebounds), and Brett Kempton all made contributions as the big men ruled the paint.
“We definitely had the size advantage and we definitely took advantage of that later in the game,” said Barrette. “But they [Fitch] have the quickness and they play hard.”
Dathan Hickey (seven points, four rebounds) showed his defensive abilities as well and nearly connected on a huge Dominique Wilkins type dunk that would have brought the house down late in the game.
With 5:44 left to go in the second period, an altercation broke out on the floor and the result was two player disqualifications.
Bernier committed a hard foul and off that physical play, Fitch’s Asia Brown shoved Bernier in the chest with two hands.
A fight broke quickly out and Isaiah Miller, seeing his teammate in distress, went after Brown and a couple punches were thrown before order was quickly restored.
Miller and Brown were each assessed technical fouls and both were ejected from the game.
But Central regained its composure quickly and Spencer became one of the primary ball distributors, posting six assists and finding Plantamuro for a couple of his three-point bombs.
“The good thing about Jaekwon was with Isaiah Miller out for the preseason, he had to handle the ball in the first three scrimmages,” said Barrette. “It’s not the first time he had to play point guard for me.”
Fitch’s Sal Aiello (13 points), Justice Farris (13), and Tre Bryant (11) all scored in double-figures for the home team but the outfit never took the lead in the game.
Central led 13-7 in the first period when Miller found Fitzpatrick for his first three pointer of the game.
The Falcons later cut the deficit to two but when Plantamuro kicked in a 3 and Hickey hit one-of-two charity shots, the Rams led 17-11 after eight minutes of work.
Central led 17-15 when that scrum broke out but once play resumed, Byrant flipped in a lay-up to tie the score with 5:15 before the half.
From there, Bernier hit a floater, Plantamuro zipped in another three and when Spencer added a free throw with 4:11 to go in the second frame, Central led 23-17 and the Rams held the lead for good the rest of the way.
Plantumuro hit a late three to close out the scoring for the Rams in the half but Fitch went on a 6-0 burst to make it a 27-26 game at intermission.
In the third stanza, Fitch was limited to just six points as Central’s defense went into overdrive.
“We rebounded the basketball and that’s the thing,” said Barrette. “And we stopped chasing. All [Fitch’s] makes today was off penetration and once we stopped letting them get into the lane, you know, good things happened.”
“Then, we converted down low the way we had to to keep the lead out there. We kept fouling them and putting them at the line which was keeping them in the game in the first half.”
Plantamuro dropped in his final three of the contest early in the third quarter and when Fitzpatrick also hit one from deep, the Rams led 39-28 with 3:58 remaining in the frame.
Fitch cut the deficit to eight going into the fourth but it ballooned back to 13 when Spencer hit a slick jumper, making it 45-32 with 6:12 to go.
But each time Central went up by double figures, the Falcons answered and off two consecutive lay-ups from Kiev Lucas (eight points), it was a 50-43 contest with 2:33 left.
But that’s as close as Fitch got the rest of the way as Spencer laid in a hoop, the Falcons’ traveled on the ensuing play, and when Bernier drove and slammed the ball with authority – plus a foul – the Rams led 55-43 with 1:56 to go.
There wouldn’t be much response to end the showdown and when the final horn sounded, Central earned a 15-point win, the 100th program win for Barrette.
“When I got the job 11 years ago, I told them I was in for the long term,” said Barrette. “One-hundred means to me that I was a man of my word. I said I was in for the long run and we definitely built a program at Bristol Central. And 100 wins really means I owe a 100 thank yous to my assistants. Every head coach will tell you you’re only as good as your assistants.”
“So Kyle Phelan, Joe DeFillippi, Billy Emmert, Scott Redman, Nate Jandreau, Rich Rose, Vinny Guarda, to name a few, those guys got me to this hundred. Like I said, it’s a great individual accomplishment but I look forward to the next one-hundred after this as well.”
NOTES…Ironically, Barrette won his 100th game in the same place he lost his final scholastic contest in. On March 8, 2001, Bristol Eastern fell to Fitch in Groton 66-49 in the round of Class L state tournament. It was the last game for Barrette and Bill Emmert.