By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The first contest between the Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern boys basketball teams takes place on Friday, Jan. 24 and the epic challenge in this historic rivalry should be a real dandy.
Central has a highly skilled 7-footer, Eastern has grit and determination and the contest could go either way.
So what’s in store between the two teams? Here’s what to expect:
Boys scholastic basketball: Bristol Eastern at Bristol Central
Time and Location: Friday, Jan. 24 at 6:45 p.m., Bristol Central high school (Charles C. Marsh Gymnasium)
The Series between the squads: Central leads the all-time series, 68-55. This is the 124th matchup between the programs. Last year the team’s split the season series. The Rams won at Eastern (47-39) on Jan. 18 while the Lancers defeated Central (57-51) to close their season on Feb. 18 on the road.
Players to Watch: Bristol Eastern – Bryce Curtin (sr., forward), Jordyn Tate (sr., guard), Drew Fries (jr., forward), Elijah Parent (jr., guard); Elijah Borgelin (so., guard), Tyler Donohue (jr., forward), Nasir Walker (so., guard); Bristol Central – Austin Brown (sr., guard), Donovan Clingan (so., center), D’Ante Ross (jr., guard), Sean Wininger (jr., forward), Shane Ouellette (sr., guard), Damion Glasper (so., guard), Victor Rosa (so., guard), Mike Lorenzetti (jr., forward), Carson Rivoira (so., forward), Calvin Neal (sr., guard).
Bristol Eastern’s record: The Lancers are 5-4 and have won four contests by three points or less. The game at Central begins a six-game road trek for Eastern.
Bristol Central’s record: The Rams enter the contest at 8-2, winners of five straight games. Since losing to New Britain (54-36) on Jan. 3, the Rams have won games by 28, 29, 21, 36 and 12 points – beating opponents over that stretch by 25.2 points-per-game.
Overview: Central’s team is rolling right now and has taken care of business over its last five games, heading into its showdown against Eastern with a boatload of momentum.
The Rams have talented bigs, speedy guards, a willingness to win and that five-game winning streak isn’t anything to sneeze at.
“They’re playing lights out. They’re the best team in the league right now,” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray of Central. “Obviously, they’ve got one of the best players in the state.”
That’s center Donovan Clingan (22.0 points-per-game) who can rebound, block shots and even hit shots from downtown.
Frankly, he’s becoming the total package and Clingan wants to win the contest to drop Eastern back to .500 on the campaign.
But don’t let Eastern’s 5-4 ledger fool you.
Barrette has seen the Lancers pull out last-chance shots and huge finishes when scouting the team this year.
“[Eastern] has played well,” said Barrette. “[Ray’s] record is so-so., about .500, but they’ve been in a ton of close games. Coach Ray will have them ready.”
Outside of the Farmington and Hartford Public double-figure losses – two games the Lancers were in the thick of before eventually losing – the program played seven close games and went 5-2 over those contests.
“We had five days of practice [this] week and we’ll be well prepared for Bristol Eastern,” said Central coach Tim Barrette. “[Ray] will be well prepared for us. He’s on his bye week too.”
The Lancers have weapons and remembered coming into Central’s gymnasium last season, picking up a huge six-point win to end the year.
The hero of that game was Elijah Parent (18. 4 points-per-game) and this year, the sharpshooter is draining near 50 percent of his shots from the field.
He’s the leader on the squad in free throw percentage, tops the program in threes and Parent is a big-time player who is not afraid of the bright lights.
Injuries, however, have depleted the roster and it’s up to that remaining healthy core to bring it to the Rams.
Dylan Woodsome (3.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals) has gamely played this season until his shoulder finally gave out and Trini Otero (8.6 points – second leading scorer, 3.5 rebounds) is out with a foot injury until February.
So getting about eight days off to rest between games was critical.
“We [had] a long layoff which is kind of what we needed,” said Ray. “We’re a little banged up but I know the kids are feeling really good.”
So who is Eastern’s secondary scorer?
That’s something Central doesn’t want to find out as the home squad wants to slow down Parent just enough and shutout everyone else.
And that means those healthy players must follow the game plan and execute their assignments on both sides of the ball.
“For us, it’s about going in and doing our job,” said Ray. “I don’t care who’s in front of us. We’re going to play hard. It’s just a matter of if we’re going to make shots.”
Last game, Jordyn Tate (7.6 points, 4.9 rebounds) dumped in a career-high 20 points and certainly looked like that second scorer Ray and company craved.
At the other forward, Tyler Donohue (4.8 rebounds-per-game) who played well the last time the team’s squared off, is another body Eastern will throw at that Rams’ elite seven-footer along with Bryce Curtin (4.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.0 blocked shot-per-game).
Curtin is gritty, doesn’t have a problem being physical and certainly will attempt to frustrate Clingan.
Drew Fries (3.8 points. 2.4 rebounds) will see time off the bench as will sophomore guard Nasir Walker.
The players Central’s quick guards will also have to mark is Eastern point guard Elijah Borgelin (6.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists) as he’s made a living finishing in the paint this season, setting up his teammates for hoops, and sinking critical free throws.
However, none of this is not much of a surprise to Barrette as both squads share many of the same qualities.
“We know each other very well,” said Barrette of the rivalry. “It makes it very difficult. We have similar defensive philosophies, him and I, but we’re obviously two different teams.”
“It’s an interesting match-up.”
If Central turns to its bread and butter high-low offense and then getting into its vaunted 2-3 defensive zone, Eastern is going to have its hands full.
Clingan will block everything thing in the lane while Sean Wininger (6.9 points) and Mike Lorenzetti (3.8 points) will box out, hit the boards, and help start the fast break.
Central has a vast size advantage over Eastern and will attempt to use its depth at guard to force Eastern into turnovers and then turn those gaffes into lay-ups for Clingan and 3-pointers by the Rams’ sharpshooters.
Austin Brown (5.5 points), Shane Ouellette (2.8 points) and Damion Glasper (4.9 points) all shoot the 3 well while Brown and Glasper can also finish at the hoop.
Victor Rosa is defensive force off the pine and can also hit a hoop or two, Carson Rivoira will knock over anyone to get his hands on the ball, D’Ante Ross (3.4 points) will play solid defense and hit an occasional 3 while Calvin Neal also brings the ‘D’ to the game.
Yes, Central has more size, a little more speed, and will be playing at home against the Lancers at an elite level.
And for the second season in a row, Eastern will be looking to score an upset.
“We’re going to compete. I’m not worried if we’re going to compete or not,” said Ray. “We’ll go out, figure out what to do and let these guys enjoy it.”
On the flip side, Barrette and company knows the score and are preparing for a tough showdown.
Throw all the records out because none if that matters when Central takes on Eastern.
“We’ll be ready and it should be a great exciting night on Friday and I hope the town comes out and sees it,” said Barrette.