By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – A group of seven seniors strong for the Bristol Central High School boys basketball program did a commendable job in 2017-18 as the squad racked up 18 wins over an exciting season.
And that’s a credit to that senior outfit of Jaekwon Spencer, Noah, Plantamuro, Alex Bernier, Isaiah Miller, Dathan Hickey, Alex Lape, and Brett Kempton.
Overall, the team tasted defeat in just six games, carried a .750 winning percentage and made several huge second half runs to capture several come-from-behind wins.
The group was the second winningest among Barrette’s teams at Central. Only the squad from 2013-14 did better, a team that went deep into the state tournament fray.
That team won 20 of 25 games for a neat .800 winning percentage. Central that season, led by the likes of Jacob Collins and Joey DeFillippi, went to the semifinals of the Class L bracket – losing to Career Magnet 66-61 in overtime from New Britain high school.
Central, ranked No. 3 that season in the postseason, was 17-3 in regular season play while the 2017-18 edition went 16-4, rated fourth overall in the newly minted CIAC Division II.
And there have been some truly special campaigns over the years for the program that started playing scholastically in 1959.
The Rams won it all at the state level, going 24-0 and winning the 1990 Class L Championship but the 18-6 ledger from this past season was an excellent tally overall by the core group of seven seniors.
“I told these guys they’re one of the winningest groups to ever come to Bristol Central in terms of a four-year period,” said Central coach Tim Barrette. “You know, 18-6 is not too shabby, let me just say that. But you know what’s great about the group? 18-6 isn’t good enough for them. They’re sitting in there [the locker room] upset right now upset because 18-6 wasn’t good enough. So while most teams would be happy at 18-6, this group wasn’t. So that’s what I’ll remember this group for. They weren’t satisfied being 18-6. They really wanted to make a run.”
And there were rough waters, especially early in the campaign, but the program knew it had to work through those tough games, learn from mistakes and then make a run to start the 2018 portion of the schedule.
Central went 0-2 against two tough opponents, versus Manchester (50-37) and at Middletown (78-74) before posting a victory against Wolcott (75-38) during the Rams’ Christmas Tournament.
The program then fell to East Lyme 83-75 – falling to 1-3 – before rolling off 14 straight wins, not tasting defeat during the month of January.
Even when the squad finally fell in a 65-59 defeat to Wethersfield on Feb. 15, it was a winnable game as Central went on a huge second-half run to almost pull it out.
The Rams then survived all the elements in a 46-42 win at Bristol Eastern, won a CCC Tournament game versus Division III finalist Avon before falling to the state’s best against East Catholic in a CCC quarterfinal challenge.
This squad also helped Barrette capture his 100th victory in a wild 60-45 victory at Fitch.
There were several tremendous comebacks by the squad and each victory led to something bigger and better.
Big man Jaekwon Spencer (21.4 points-per-game) ended his career as the seventh all-time leader in points scored at Central and should be playing collegiately come the fall semester.
Noah Plantamuro (9.0 ppg, 65 3-pointers) ended the year as one of the top best single season 3-point shooters in program history.
Alex Bernier (8.4 ppg) was a tremendous force in the paint whether in a starting role or off the pine while Isaiah Miller (7.3 ppg) played the human game of chess on the court better than just about anyone else in Central program history.
Miller was also solid in the clutch and always seemed to hit a dagger three-pointer when it was needed the most.
Dathan Hickey (5.6 ppg) was the best defensive player on the squad and usually kept opponents under their average, Alex Lape (5.1 ppg) was a physical presence and upped his play when called upon to start while Brett Kempton played in 16 games and always gave it his all in a reserve role.
And what was the common thread between all those players?
They came up together, starting from the freshman ranks, and shined brightest while all contributing at the varsity level over a four-year stretch.
“I’m proud,” said Barrette of the group that came through over the last four seasons. “Not many teams can tell you that they had seven guys play freshmen basketball and seven guys graduate as seniors. There’s no one new in that group. All seven of those guys played as freshman.”
And while Central posted those 18 wins, this team probably gave its coach more halftime heartburn than the average Connecticut mentor should have to deal with.
But the Rams were a second half team, played well within Barrette’s system and despite the early postseason exit, the team showed why it was one of the top Central Connecticut Conference squads this season.
“They’re picked it up, they’ve grown into their roles and I can’t be prouder of those guys,” said Barrette.