By MICHAEL LETENDRE
Let’s not waste any time: It’s Bristol Central squaring off against Bristol Eastern one more time on Monday night.
And the squads have two very different agendas.
For the Rams, the squad is currently sixth in the CIAC Division II standings and a win could vault Central into the top three while the Lancers need a victory just to qualify for Division III play.
Here’s a quick look at the game:
Bristol Central at Bristol Eastern
Time and Location: Monday, February 19 at 6:45 p.m., Bristol Eastern high school (Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium)
Last Time: Central won at home on January 19, defeating Eastern 41-30 but at Bristol Eastern last season, big Tom Gonzales made a lay-up at the buzzer to give BE a huge 55-53 win in overtime on January 20, 2017.
The Series between the squads: The Rams leads the all-time series 66-54. This is the 121st showdown between the schools.
Players to Watch: Bristol Central – Isaiah Miller (sr, guard, 7.4 points-per-game, 17 3-pointers), Jaekwon Spencer (sr, forward/center, 21.2 ppg, 24 3s); Alex Bernier (sr, forward/center, 8.4 ppg); Dathan Hickey (sr, guard. 6.2 ppg), Noah Plantamuro (sr, guard, 9.6 ppg, 54 3s), Alex Lape (sr, forward, 5.3 ppg), Ryan Rodriguez (jr, forward, 2.5 ppg), Justus Fitzpatrick (jr, guard), Brett Kempton (sr, forward), Austin Brown (so, guard); Bristol Eastern – Tyler Mason (sr, guard, 3.7 ppg, 4.2 rebounds-per-game), Matt D’Amato (so, guard), Mac Goulet (sr, forward, 13.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Camryn Tate (sr, guard, 4.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.8 assists-per-game), Nate Silva (sr, guard, 8.8 ppg, 46 3s), Bryce Curtin (so, forward), Jake Lafferty (sr, forward/center, 3.7 rpg), Brendon Gayle (so, guard, 4.2 ppg), Elijah Parent (fr, guard, 2.9 ppg), Carter Dziedzic (so, forward, still injured).
Bristol Central’s Record: The Rams are 15-4, going undefeated in January. The program won the first ever 2017-18 CCC South-Patriot Championship (out of three teams…).
Bristol Eastern’s Record: The Lancers are 7-12 and needs to beat Central to qualify for the state tournament.
Why Bristol Central could win: Central wants this game rather badly.
Along with a little athletic might, that one tangible and that other intangible asset are a powerful combination.
“Big game Monday night,” said Central coach Tim Barrette of the showdown against Bristol Eastern.
Jaekwon Spencer is posting 21 points-per-game and can snare 10 rebounds in a flash. He can also hit 3-pointers if given the opportunity.
Isaiah Miller and Dathan Hickey can easily turn the contest into a track meet but Barrette has a game plan and expect the team to execute in its sets.
Noah Plantamuro needs to drain 3s as Eastern loads the box when Spencer, Alex Bernier, and Alex Lape operate in the paint.
This team thrives on defense and Ryan Rodriguez and Justus Fitzpatrick will bring some of that off the pine when called upon.
If this game becomes psychological, Miller and Lape play the human game of chess better than anyone. Those two will trash talk an opponent into oblivion and sometimes, that’s more important that scoring (sometimes…).
Let’s not pretend here: Central is bigger, more athletic and has been more successful than Eastern this past season.
Why Bristol Eastern could win: Eastern limited Central to just forty points the last time they played and when the Lancers won this year, it allowed opponents fewer than fifty points a game.
And when Eastern plays its usual brand of defense, that means half-court hoop and a slow down tempo that frustrates opponents looking to score quickly.
Eastern then must turn that defense into offense.
“For us, it’s just a matter of us going out there and controlling the tempo of the game and seeing if we can get some shots to go down,” said Ray.
Mac Goulet (13.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg) doesn’t have any fear rolling to the hoop against bigger opponents and when called upon, he can hit the occasional 3.
Gritty Tyler Mason doesn’t allow any free passes to the hoop, can hit long range hoops when he chooses, and is the squad’s second best rebounder.
Camryn Tate’s offense has improved over the second half of the season and if Nate Silva is hitting from deep, opponents have to beware.
Jake Lafferty will rebound as well but what will the bench platoon of Elijah Parent, Bryce Curtin, and Matt D’Amato bring to the court this time around?
Bristol Central X-Factor: Dathan Hickey – We know about his defense. But it’s his offense that could be a difference-maker in the game.
Bristol Eastern X-Factor: The bench – When the Lancers won 3-of-4 games to get within one victory of state tournament qualification, it was augmented by the play of Bryce Curtin, Elijah Parent and the bench. Don’t fall asleep on Eastern’s warriors off the pine.
Why Bristol Central could lose: The Rams better make it more of an up-and-down affair than the last time the teams squared off or it will play into the Lancers’ collective hands again.
And don’t forget, Eastern is playing for its state tournament life.
Desperate times call for…well, you know.
There’s lots of incentive there for the Lancers and could make Eastern a little more dangerous than usual.
“Eastern obviously needs a win to get into the state tournament,” said Barrette. “And I don’t think we played very well against them the first time.”
Central will have a hard time of it if the squad plays the way it did over the first half of the Wethersfield game – not exactly normal for the squad.
Seeing Central down 33-12 at the half at Wethersfield was strange to say the least…
Why Bristol Eastern could lose: Eastern hasn’t done well against teams that have been a little bit faster and a slight bit taller.
And those two items seemed to stall out the Lancers in every game they lost over 2017-18.
You can see Eastern empty the kitchen sink against such squads but you know what happens when Davey squares off against…well, you know.
“They’re a little more athletic,” said Ray of Central. “They’re a little bigger. That will be a little different in terms of style though [from that New Britain game, a 79-53 Eastern loss].”
Central might not exactly be Goliath but the point has been made about what could be an uphill climb for the home squad.
Bristol Central’s bottom line: If Central plays the way it did over the second half of the Wethersfield loss, Eastern is in trouble.
The Rams hold several obvious physical advantages over the Lancers and Central must play to its strengths.
Winning 14 straight contests in a row was amazing but the loss against Wethersfield might have been the most beneficial game of the year.
“I think [the loss at Wethersfield] might wake us up a little bit for Monday night,” said Barrette. “And, ah, you know, I’ll leave it at that…”
Bristol Eastern’s bottom line: Ray wants a repeat performance from the first half of the last Central/Eastern game.
Slowing the contest down is critical because Central has all the tools to overwhelm Eastern.
But for the twentieth time this season, Ray expects the same kind of effort out of his squad he saw over the first 19 games.
“I know that we’re going to give our best effort,” said Ray. “We’re going to be able to compete. I’m just, you know, I’m just hoping we catch a break or two and we’re able to capitalize on their mistakes as well.”