Thursday, March 31, 2016

Introducing my HIGH 5 OF THE WEEK

Very soon, a new feature will appear on this blog.
I'm calling it my "HIGH 5 OF THE WEEK". It will mostly feature local athletes who are faring well at the college level. The athlete may have earned a player of the week/month/year nod, or maybe just had a terrific week. I wanted a way a point out outstanding performances of our local college athletes, and this is what I came up with. We'll see how it goes.
Look for the first post in the near future...

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Siders earns CHSCA All-State nod; Ferraro and Japs chosen for Academic team

Holy Cross senior standout RaShana Siders received another honor Monday when she was named All-State by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association.
Siders was chosen for the First Team in Class M.
There were also a pair of locals chosen as Academic All-State. They are St. Paul senior Lizzy Ferraro and Wolcott senior Bri Japs.

Here's a little more on Siders.

The Holy Cross senior led her team to the Class M state semifinals, where they lost to a powerful Cromwell squad that ended up winning the title. All Siders did in her final game was toss in 30 points. When the Crusaders needed a big basket, they more often than not turned to Siders, who could get to the hoop (VIDEO) or shoot from the outside. Siders was also capable of stealing the ball and triggering the Holy Cross fast break. Siders was named the top NVL senior, and her team captured division and league tournament titles.
Next up for Siders is American International College, where she will begin play in the fall.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Seven local boys make CHSCA All-State teams

The 2015-2016 Connecticut High School Coaches Association boys all-state teams have been announced, and they are well populated by Waterbury players. There was also a St. Paul sophomore in the mix.
Leading the way are three Sacred Heart seniors, and I'm sure you know their names by now: Mustapha Heron, Tyrn Flowers and Charles Fisher. All three were chosen for the Class M First Team.
There is one player each from Crosby, Wilby and Holy Cross. Senior Jordan Booker was chosen from Crosby, senior Damian Grant gets the nod from Wilby, senior Justin Strielkauskas was taken from Holy Cross, and sophomore Michael Palmieri was picked from St. Paul. Booker was a First Team selection in Class LL while Grant (Class L), Strielkauskas (S) and Palmieri (M) were all Second Team choices.

Here's a little more on each player:

What more is there to say about Heron, other than this honor should have been in addition to being named McDonald's All-American and Gatorade state Player of the Year, but I digress. Heron was simply phenomenal in his senior year. When Sacred Heart needed Heron to carry it, he did, and often in spectacular fashion (VIDEO). Heron helped lead the Hearts to a third straight state championship, this time in Class M. Heron will next find himself playing for Bruce Pearl at Auburn University in Alabama.

This kid has blossomed into a terrific player, and he's still got more room for his game to grow. The smooth lefty can shoot (VIDEO), pass, drive and block shots, just to name a few skills. Flowers didn't score as much as fellow lefty Heron, but he affected the game in so many other ways. Even with fellow senior J.T. Riddick out for a spell with a back injury, Flowers teamed with Heron to form a dominant back line in a 1-2-2 zone trap defense. When an opposing player did find his way to the basket, he was often met by Flowers. Flowers will be playing at UMass-Amherst next season for Derek Kellogg.

How has no one picked this kid up yet? He's smart, well-spoken, and he has a strong game to boot. Fisher has been known for his defense throughout his time at Sacred Heart, but the guy has an offensive game too. He can handle the ball, and he can shoot. And if you're not careful, he can slam one (VIDEO) on you as well. Fisher has a game for the next level, and he should get an opportunity.

He's small in stature, but most definitely not in game. Booker showed what he can do in the state tournament when he lit Kennedy up for 42 points. Booker can finish in the lane, and he can fire up bombs from the outside. Booker has a ton of range, and he averaged over 20 points per game for Crosby. Booker showed why he's an All-NVL player throughout the season.

Grant was a double-double machine for Wilby. An explosive finisher near the basket, he could score with either hand. Grant provided inside stability for the Wildcats throughout the season. Grant often attracted double teams, as you can see in this video. Grant is No. 25 in green.
What made Grant tough to stop was his ability to finish in traffic with either hand. He could also be relentless going after the ball. Wilby will certainly miss his inside presence next season.

Strielkauskas was a tough, strong player for Holy Cross. He helped lead the Crusaders to the Class S state semifinals. Strielkauskas could shoot threes, he could get to the basket, many a time driving the baseline. He was also a solid rebounder for his size, something very important for a Holy Cross team that didn't have a ton of height. There was even a time when Strielkauskas, listed at 6-foot-2, was assigned to guard Wamogo's burly 6-foot-5 sophomore Garrett Coe. Strielkauskas did his job and held his own as Holy Cross rolled over Wamogo. 

The fun thought for St. Paul is Palmieri is their guy for the next two years. That's a not-so-fun thought for his opponents. Palmieri poured in 21 points in St. Paul's last game of the year, a second round state loss to East Windsor. Palmieri came up with big plays throughout the season, including tying the first round state game against SMSA late in the fourth quarter. The Falcons, seeded 31st, went on to upset the No. 2 seed that night. In another game, Palmieri showed his versatility with 22 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. I'm sure St. Paul looks forward to having Palmieri around for two more seasons. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

My memories of legendary Waterbury basketball coach Ed Generali

I remember the first time I saw a Torrington-Holy Cross boys basketball game. It was cold winter night, but it was hot inside the Connie Donahue Gymnasium at Torrington High School. My dad and I were there for the game, and the place was buzzing as the Crusaders came in with a solid team led by Mark Konecny, a 6-foot-10 center being recruited by Division I schools.
What stuck out to me, however, was Ed Generali. The Holy Cross head coach was dressed in an impeccable suit, but also wore a beard on his face. Thinking about it now, I think it represents the different sides of Generali. The suit is the smooth operator and charmer (not a slight by any means, Ed is a great guy!), the beard represents the tough, competitive, passionate coach who wants to win as much as anyone.
Generali could schmooze a referee, or he could ride one until he was issued a technical foul. Generali coached hard, and he got his Holy Cross teams to play hard. His players responded to him. His 2006 state runner-up wasn't as talented as the Torrington juggernaut that beat it, but those players would have run through a brick wall for him.
In a story by Joe Palladino of the Waterbury Republican-American on "The Zone", Generali, 65, said it's time for him to retire. He takes with him 638 victories, 13 NVL championships, and three state titles, according to Palladino's story. He coached at both Sacred Heart and Holy Cross, and was successful at both schools. Generali also coached the girls for a time at Holy Cross.
Until Tony Turina hung up his coach's whistle at Torrington, I hadn't interacted with Generali. When I was tasked with writing a story on Turina at The Register Citizen, from the perspective of opposing coaches, one of the people I contacted was Generali.
There couldn't have been a nicer human being talking to me on the other end of the phone that night.
When I was starting this blog, I wanted to get out and cover as many different teams as I could. I ended up seeing two of the Holy Cross boys games, and I'm glad I did. Generali was gracious in defeat when Holy Cross was hammered by Sacred Heart -- who wasn't in the state of Connecticut this season? -- and he was just as gracious when his team blew away Wamogo in the first round of the Class S state tournament.
When I wanted to write a preview for the state semifinal game against Immaculate, Generali responded to an email the next day with great stuff about what his team had to do in that game. He was also passionate about how far his team had come after missing the postseason for two straight years in 2013 and 2014.
I do this blog because I want to. I am not getting paid to do this, yet Generali still took time out of his day to respond to me. It was something that I greatly appreciated.
Generali didn't go out a state champion, but he's still a winner on and off the court. Good luck Coach, and enjoy retirement!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Bristol Eastern, Bristol Central will get their turf fields

It has been a long time coming, but Bristol's two public high schools will be getting their synthetic turf fields.
John Stavens, athletic coordinator at Bristol Eastern, posted messages on Twitter about the city Board of Finance vote that took place Tuesday night.
"Glad to see the various city leadership groups come together to move Bristol's facilities forward," Stavens tweeted on @BEHSAthletics. "It was a long journey to get here. Thanks Mr. Cassin, the Mayor, BOE Commissioners, the City Council and the BOF Commissioners for their support!"
Mr. Cassin is Chris Cassin, the city supervisor of athletics. The mayor is Ken Cockayne.
Listed on the Board of Finance agenda for the meeting was this: "Mayor's Synthetic Field Operation Committee: Consideration of a bonding appropriation of $2,940,000."
Attached to the agenda was a letter from Edward Swicklas, co-chair of the committee and city parks and recreation superintendent. The letter was addressed to Finance board chairwoman Cheryl Thibeault.
"At a meeting of the Mayor's Synthetic Field Operation Committee, held on January 8, 2016, it was voted and approved to recommend building a synthetic turf field at Bristol Eastern High School ($1,350,000) and at Bristol Central High School ($1,590,000) and to forward this recommendation to the Board of Finance for your consideration," Swicklas wrote in the letter.
Turf has long been a hot topic in the city. Bristol's fields are considered to be overused, and turf can stand up to more punishment than regular grass and dirt. Stavens has been a big proponent of turf in town, along with many others in the community. It appears that turf will become a reality.

Bristol's Steve Pikiell takes over Rutgers men's hoop program

Bristol native Steve Pikiell is headed to the big-time Division I men's basketball competition that is the Big Ten.
Pikiell was introduced as the 19th head coach in Rutgers men's basketball program history today. Pikiell takes over for former NBA head coach Eddie Jordan, who was recently dismissed by the Scarlet Knights.
Prior to Rutgers, Pikiell had been the head coach of Stony Brook for the last 11 seasons. The Seawolves lost their final game of the 2015-16 season, but that loss came to perennial power Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. It was the first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance for Stony Brook. Stony Brook had been a Division III program until its transition to Division I in 1999.
"Everywhere Steve Pikiell has been, he has won," Rutgers Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Patrick Hobbs said in a story on the team's website today. "But most impressive, is that everywhere he's been, they started at the bottom and rose to the top. He will bring that same dedication and energy to build a successful program at Rutgers. That work has already begun."
There's a ton of work to do at Rutgers, which finished last in the Big Ten in the 2015-16 season. It will be a big-time challenge for the 48-year-old Pikiell, but one that he's looking forward to what he called "a dream job."
"There is so much potential here," Pikiell said in the Rutgers story. "Rutgers has all the ingredients -- great location, great University, great people and a great conference. When evaluating the position, it checked all the boxes for me. I look forward to building a program that the Rutgers community will be proud of."
Pikiell was a standout player for St. Paul in Bristol and earned three all-state selections. He was MVP of the Class L state tournament, which the Falcons finished as a runner-up to Warren Harding of Bridgeport. Pikiell is a member of the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame, which he was inducted into in 2006.
Pikiell played for Jim Calhoun at UConn from 1987-1991, then gained valuable coaching knowledge while on the staffs of Calhoun at UConn, Howie Dickenmann at CCSU and Karl Hobbs at George Washington. 
Pikiell took on his first full-time head coaching job at Stony Brook in time for the 2005-06 season. It was rough at first, but Pikiell reached 20 wins for the first time in 2009-10. Six years later, the Seawolves were in the NCAA Tournament. Pikiell compiled six 20-win seasons at Stony Brook, including the last five in a row.
The Rutgers story had quotes from Calhoun, Iowa's Fran McCaffrey, Villanova's Jay Wright, Indiana's Tom Crean, Temple's Fran Dunphy and DePaul's Dave Leitao. That's a pretty good list of coaches, especially with the Naismith Hall of Famer Calhoun.
Calhoun had high praise for his former player and assistant.
"I have watched his teams play and I've watched him build that program and the way he's done it," Calhoun said. "He is fabulous. He knows how to build a culture. He can develop talent. He can coach. I have no doubt he's going to be able to do those same things at Rutgers."
High praise from a Hall of Fame coach and three-time national champion.
Closer to home, current St. Paul associate head coach Brendan Phelps lauded Pikiell on Twitter.
"Really happy for Coach Pike," Phelps wrote. "He's been a mentor of mine since I was a kid. Not many better people in the biz."
Pikiell has plenty of support and a winning pedigree behind him. Rutgers will be a challenge, but Pikiell is up for it.

Here's the link for the full story on the Rutgers men's basketball website. The story contains a link to video of Pikiell's introduction at Rutgers. Pikiell got a standing ovation when he was introduced to a crowd in the Rutgers Athletic Center, commonly known as "The RAC."

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sacred Heart's Mustapha Heron is best CT high school player I've seen

I've seen some pretty good high school basketball players through the years.
I have never seen anyone like Mustapha Heron. He is the best high school player I have seen.
I didn't get a chance to see Waterbury greats like Phil Lott, or state standouts like Marcus Camby. I only know about them and players older than them because of stories I've read or overheard.
I only recall seeing Ryan Gomes once, but that was in a memorable double overtime game in The Pit against Mark Konecny and Holy Cross. Gomes hadn't developed his physique at that point, but you could easily see the talent he had.
I did get to see star NVL players like Damian Saunders, Jordan Williams, Desmond Williams, Anthony Ireland and B.J. Monteiro. Outside the NVL, there were players like Dave McClure (Duke), who played for Trinity Catholic, and Michael Moore, who suited up for Hillhouse. I can thank my dad for taking me to so many games and sharing my interest in high school basketball.
Sacred Heart standout Mustapha Heron is the best high school
player I have ever seen in person.
Heron is the best I have ever seen. Period. End of discussion.
The southpaw Heron made two plays this season with his off hand that left me in awe.
In a regular season game against Holy Cross, Heron got the ball, dribbled the length of the sideline with his right hand. He went to the basket and rammed the ball with his right hand. He only handled the ball with his left hand for a couple seconds at most while grabbing the rebound. He moved the ball to his right hand, then he was off to the races. Here's video of that dunk
The second play was during a state tournament game against Granby Memorial. Heron rebounded an air ball and threw a three-quarter court pass -- with his right hand -- to fellow senior Charles Fisher for the slam. Here's video of that pass.
Heron had many more memorable plays in his three years at Sacred Heart, where he scored over 2,000 points. I'm sure you can find plenty of highlights on The Zone (Waterbury Republican-American) or even with just a YouTube search. Go for it. You will be entertained.
Heron said this about his three years at Sacred Heart when interviewed by CPTV Sports after Saturday's win over Notre Dame-Fairfield.
"It means the world," Heron said of winning three straight titles. "Once I came to Sacred Heart, I told the coaching staff that I wanted to win three, and that's exactly what we did."
I was there for his first two state titles, against Valley Regional, and you could see the budding superstar in him. Debate Sacred Heart's out-of-NVL competition -- with the exception of schools like Foothills Christian and Long Island Lutheran -- all you want. That doesn't take away from what a special player Mustapha Heron is. 
Heron isn't built like most high school kids you see. He's 6-foot-5, but a chiseled 6-5. He has terrific range, can dribble to create his shot, be it a mid-range turnaround or a hard drive to the basket. And oh yeah, he can finish around the rim. Heron could get his when he wanted in high school, but he could also set up teammates. He was also a good rebounder, even though he didn't have to be with players like Tyrn Flowers and J.T. Riddick roaming the paint. Heron is the kind of player who can lead the fast break himself after grabbing a rebound.
Heron is headed to Auburn to play for Bruce Pearl. He's already a strong kid with great athleticism, and I can't even begin to imagine what he will be like after the Tiger staff gets him in a Division I weight room. Heron has the drive to be great, and I look forward to watching him in SEC games.
There will be other great players to take the courts in Waterbury, but none will be like Mustapha Heron. I'll close this post out with Heron's last dunk ever in a game in Alumni Hall.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Sacred Heart boys get their state three-peat

The Class M state championship game was over within the first two minutes of the first quarter.
The top-seeded Sacred Heart boys hit No. 6 Notre Dame-Fairfield with a 10-0 blitz to start the contest. It was 32-10 after a quarter, 58-26 at halftime. There was no stopping the Hearts, who came ready to play and ran away with a 101-49 victory at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Sacred Heart won its third straight state championship and became the first NVL team to do so, according to WATR AM-1320. 
"It really speaks a lot to the character of the kids," head coach Jon Carroll told WATR after the game. "78-5 over three years has been great."
"All the hours you put in is what makes you ready for it," senior Mustapha Heron told WATR.
The Hearts are the seventh boys program to accomplish the feat of winning three straight championships, according to the CIAC. The last was St. Joseph of Trumbull from 1986-88.
Much has been made and will be made of Sacred Heart only moving up to Class M and not taking on Class LL. There's plenty of merit to that argument, but for the sake of the players, put that aside for now. This was a special basketball team.
Carroll said the team carried a target on its back.
"They're 17, 18-year-old kids, it's got to weigh on them," Carroll said. "They responded tremendously. I'm so proud of them."
Heron dropped 32 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in his last game. Senior Tyrn Flowers had 19 points and eight boards, and fellow senior Charles Fisher added a solid double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Fisher also had three assists. 
Senior John (J.T.) Riddick added 10 points and nine rebounds. Junior Courie Stevenson scored 13 points while sophomore Raheem Solomon chipped in seven points and four assists.
"From one through 15, we all came ready to play," Heron told CPTV Sports. "Everybody had a big game, it meant something to everybody.
Sacred Heart held a 48-18 advantage in points in the paint. The Hearts took a 22-2 advantage in fast break points. Sacred Heart shot 54.7 percent from the field for the game and outrebounded Notre Dame 53-26. The game was tied for exactly nine seconds, which was how long it took Heron to bury a 3. Notre Dame shot 29.8 percent from the floor and 22.2 percent from three-point range. Sacred Heart had six blocks and seven steals in a dominating defensive effort.
It was the final game for Sacred Heart seniors Heron, Flowers, Fisher, Riddick, Da'Shaun Douglas, Giannia Perrotti, Brandon Austin and Reggie Ligon Jr.
For Notre Dame, it was the finale for seniors Jesse McIntosh, Andrew Allen, Jordan Pettway, Giovanni Cagnazzo and Thomas Gerling.
We can debate what class Sacred Heart should have played in until the end of time. For the record, I think they should have played in Class LL.
What is not debatable is the greatness of what was witnessed in the city of Waterbury over the past three years. This is a stretch that will go down in the history books as one of the best, if not the best, ever.

UPDATE: Sacred Heart is the seventh boys program to win three straight state titles. The CIAC originally reported that they were the sixth, then later corrected it.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Sacred Heart goes for third straight state title; Notre Dame-Fairfield stands in the way

The top-seeded Sacred Heart boys basketball team (25-2 overall) will play for its third straight state championship today at 3 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Standing in the way of that quest is sixth-seeded Notre Dame-Fairfield (24-3). The Lancers have reached the title game with victories over No. 27 Enfield (73-49), No. 11 Ansonia (68-63), No. 3 Cromwell (55-52) and No. 10 Northwest Catholic (81-79).
Notre Dame returns to the Class M state championship game after losing to Weaver last year, 73-59. The Lancers are 0-2 overall in title games. 
Notre Dame is led by All-SWC First Team players Jesse McIntosh and Jordan Pettway. McIntosh is a 6-foot-4 senior and Pettway is a 5-10 senior. Both are captains for the Lancers, and McIntosh was the league MVP.
According to a story from Doug Bonjour of the Connecticut Post, Notre Dame has been without 6-5 junior Colin Burke (broken hand) for the entire state tournament. The loss of height definitely hurts against Sacred Heart.
You know who the main names are for Sacred Heart. There's 6-5 senior Mustapha Heron, a dominant guard who will play for Bruce Pearl at Auburn this fall. Heron was passed over for Gatorade Player of the Year for the second straight time in what was an absolutely mystifying decision.
The Hearts also have 6-8 senior Tyrn Flowers, who can do a little bit of everything. Six-foot-two senior Charles Fisher is a glue guy and tough defender on the outside. Six-nine senior J.T. Riddick provides shot-blocking on the interior for Sacred Heart. You can't forget about 6-3 sophomore Raheem Solomon, who has been solid. The Hearts also have 6-2 junior Courie Stevenson, who has provided good minutes for his team.
Sacred Heart is 7-2 all-time in state championship games, including victories in the 2014 and 2015 Class S contests over Valley Regional. The Hearts have claimed wins in their last five championship game appearances (also won in 2009, 1997 and 1984).
Sacred Heart will enter tomorrow's championship game on a 53-game winning streak. Jon Carroll had this to say about his team's shot at three straight titles at yesterday's state championship luncheon in Southington:
"You know, it is in the back of their minds. The back-to-back was special. We've had a target on our backs the entire season. You get everybody's best shot, and kids are kids. They hear chatter and talk. They've done a magnificent job of just being kids and playing."
Today, the Hearts have a chance to make their championship run a trilogy of greatness. 

The game is being televised live on CPTV Sports, and you can also catch the livestream from the NFHS Network here. There will also be plenty of media coverage on Twitter before, during and after the game.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Heron leads Sacred Heart to third straight state final

The Sacred Heart boys basketball team has had a great season, led by several different standout players.
In Wednesday night's Class M state semifinal game against Bloomfield at New Britain High School, there was one star who shined brightest for the Hearts.
Sacred Heart super senior Sacred Heart was incredible in
Wednesday night's semifinal win with 46 points.

His name is Mustapha Heron, and he is the best player in the state. Heron showed why he deserves that title with a 46-point explosion against the Warhawks. Sacred Heart needed every point of it, given fourth-seeded Bloomfield challenged the top seed like no one else on its state schedule had this season. The Hearts finally pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 71-60 victory, but it was a well-earned win. Sacred Heart will play Notre Dame-Fairfield for the state title on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena. It's the third straight semifinal victory for the Hearts over the Warhawks.
The Warhawks scrapped and clawed their way into contention time and again on Wednesday night in a packed Chick Shea Gymnasium. Bloomfield showed why it produces one of the state's best teams, year in and year out.
On this night, however, NO ONE was stopping Heron. His first three baskets were 3-pointers, but he scored 10 of his 16 hoops in the paint, in some cases against a whole bunch of contact.
In his post containing Heron's shot chart on Twitter, Brass City Hoops' Rob Maia called Heron's performance "great". Incredible, amazing and sensational would also work.
Heron scored his team's first 11 points and ended the half with 27. In face of double and even triple teams, he didn't stop.
Seniors Tyrn Flowers and Charles Fisher can't be left out of the conversation. Flowers scored several huge baskets in the second half, including a pair of emphatic dunks, one a two-hand putback of a teammate's miss. Charles Fisher had a big three-point play, and he also sank a huge 3-pointer. Flowers had 13 points, 10 rebounds and five steals while Fisher added 10 points, five rebounds and three steals, according to Joe Palladino of the Waterbury Republican-American. 
Bloomfield head coach Gary Barcher said what everyone feels when on the court against Sacred Heart.
"They are such a match-up nightmare, my God," Barcher told Derek Turner of GameTimeCT. "I just told the kids, we don't have 6-9, 6-10, 6-7, we don't have that. We have a bunch of little guys that work their tail off every day. I wouldn't trade them for anybody."
Barcher has every reason to feel that way after the effort his Warhawks gave on Wednesday. Bloomfield dove, scrapped and clawed its way into contention, and even the lead.
In the end, Sacred Heart had Mustapha Heron, and he proved to be too much. The Hearts go for their third straight state championship on Saturday. 

Of note: Heron went over 2,000 points in his career on Wednesday. He has done that in a little less than three seasons. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

It's Sacred Heart-Bloomfield, again, in a state semifinal

Does this matchup sound familiar?
The top-seeded Sacred Heart boys basketball team tips off tonight against No. 4 Bloomfield in a Class M state semifinal game at 7 o'clock at New Britain High School. At stake is a spot in the state final this weekend at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Sacred Heart senior Charles Fisher is used to having
Bloomfield as an opponent. The Hearts are meeting the
Warhawks in a state semifinal for the third straight season.

This is the third straight season that the Hearts and Warhawks have met in the state semifinals. In 2014 and 2015, Sacred Heart knocked off Bloomfield on its way to the state championship. Last year's game was also in New Britain. The 2014 game was played at Avon High School.
In just a little bit of an understatement, these non-conference foes are familiar with each other. They even go back to 2009, when Sacred Heart topped Bloomfield for the Class S state championship in the first year of title games played at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
As Hearts head coach Jon Carroll put it after his team's semifinal win over Granby: "We know them pretty well, they know us pretty well. It's almost like a conference game at this point."
Carroll knows the style of Gary Barcher's Warhawks well. Be ready for pressure, and lots of it.
"I expect them to compete and be physical, and we look to do the same," Carroll said.
Senior Charles Fisher said Sacred Heart has been focused since Day 1 on a third straight state championship.
"We're a team that wants it," Fisher said.
After losing to the Hearts in the state semifinals the last two years, it's a good bet the Warhawks want it badly as well.
Bloomfield got to the semifinals with wins over No. 29 Kaynor Tech (66-39), No. 20 Plainfield (70-43) and No. 12 Bacon Academy (65-51), which won the ECC Tournament title.
The Warhawks had a balanced attack in their win over the Bobcats. Seven different players scored seven points, according to the report submitted to the Hartford Courant. Bloomfield was led by a pair of 6-foot-3 players, junior Russell Thompson-Bishop and senior Chin Rochester.
Sacred Heart seniors Tyrn Flowers (24), Mustapha Heron (3)
and Charles Fisher (front) are looking for a third straight
state championship. They need to get past Bloomfield for the
third straight season first.

Carroll said his team, led by seniors Mustapha Heron, Tyrn Flowers and Fisher, are used to the bright lights. So is Bloomfield, which is making its fourth straight appearance.
Still, the Hearts have looked very dominant in their first three state tournament games, and frankly throughout most of their games in the state (their two losses were out-of-state) this season. Sacred Heart just keeps coming, and it's not looking to change.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Carroll said. "We'll play the way we play until we see something where we have to adjust."
Bloomfield will attempt to provide that roadblock tonight in New Britain. The winner gets a trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena this weekend for the ultimate prize.

Holy Cross boys eliminated by Immaculate in Class S semifinals

The fifth-seeded Holy Cross boys basketball team ran into a tough team in top-seeded Immaculate on Tuesday night, and the result didn't go the way the Crusaders wanted it.
Holy Cross saw its season end with a 74-58 loss to the Mustangs in a Class S state semifinal game at Masuk High School in Monroe. Immaculate moves on to play surprising No. 11 seed Coginchaug in the state final this weekend at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Jonathan Mowatt led the Crusaders with 18 points, including a 75-foot buzzer beater to end the first half. Rob Maia of Brass City Hoops has video of the shot on his Twitter account @rdm203 
You can also see the shot on the Waterbury Republican-American's website, The Zone.
It was Mowatt's last game in a Holy Cross uniform. The same goes for Justin Strielkauskas, who tallied 16 points. It was also the last ride for seniors Dyllan Tyson and Dillon Collins.
Holy Cross' biggest issue was Immaculate senior Darrius Smith. The 5-foot-7 guard poured in 28 points and couldn't be stopped.
The Crusaders ended their season with a record of 18-8. Strielkauskas had this to say to The Zone's Joe Palladino after the game.
"I think we came up a little short. We all wanted to be at Mohegan, that's everyone's place to be, but I am proud of us, we're all proud of each other, I think we did a pretty good job."
Given this program missed the state tournament in 2013 and 2014, runs to the quarters in 2015 and the semis are 2016 are definitely something to be proud of.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Crosby's run ends against top-seeded Fairfield Prep in LL quarters

The Crosby boys basketball team made it to the Class LL state quarterfinals, then it ran into a buzzsaw on Monday night.
That buzzsaw was top-seeded Fairfield Prep, the defending state champion and a team many expect to get back to Mohegan Sun Arena. All the Jesuits did at Fairfield University's Alumni Hall was shoot over 60 percent against the Bulldogs in an 84-68 victory.
All Crosby head coach Nick Augelli could do after was give credit where credit was due.
"I threw everything at them," Augelli told GameTimeCT's Joe Morelli after the game. "I threw a man-to-man, a 2-3 zone, a 1-3-1 zone, a trap, a man-to-man trap, a zone trap. They are a great team, very patient."
Crosby played hard, but in the end, Prep just had too much. Five players hit double figures for the Jesuits, and two more had eight points each.
Monday's Class LL state quarterfinal loss to Fairfield Prep
was the last game for Crosby seniors Daniel Jones (20)
and Jordan Booker (00).
Junior Jeremiah Kendall led the way for Crosby with 24 points. The Waterbury Republican-American's Dennis Brown had Kendall for 11 rebounds. Senior Daniel Jones contributed seven points and 14 rebounds for the Bulldogs. Fellow senior Roary Jadusingh tallied 13 points, but Prep held senior Jordan Booker to 10 points after his 42-point outburst against Kennedy in the second round. Junior Dayquain Sinisterra scored 13 points.
It was the final game for Crosby seniors Booker, Jadusingh, Jones, Justice Goldbourne and Dhimitri Stojko.
Augelli had this final comment about Prep in Morelli's story.
"I don't feel bad about losing to them at all," Augelli said.
Sometimes, you just run into a better team. That's what happened to Crosby, which finished the 2015-16 season with a record of 19-6.

Holy Cross boys ready for Class S semifinal challenge from Immaculate

One night after Crosby lost its game against a top seed in Class LL, Holy Cross gets its chance in Class S against top-seeded Immaculate.
The Crusaders and Mustangs go at it tonight at 7 o'clock at Masuk High School in Monroe.
"Immaculate has a well-rounded team which makes them difficult to defend," Holy Cross head coach Ed Generali wrote in an email earlier this week. "A good blend of size and great guard play."
Justin Strielkauskas is just one of the seniors who has helped
lead Holy Cross to within a game of a trip to the Sun.
If that sounds familiar for Immaculate, it's the same kind of combination it had the last time it won a state title, back in 2012. The Crusaders want to make sure the Mustangs can't repeat that outcome in 2016.
"We have to be able to defend as well as we have thus far in the tournament and rebound against a bigger team," Generali wrote. "Get back on defense to control the transition game and defend inside action."
Immaculate is led by 6-fooot-1 senior Darius Hunter, 5-11 sophomore Ronan Doherty, 6- 5 senior Alex Gerbo and 6-3 junior William Hatcher. One thing to note, and it may have been an aberration, but the Mustangs were a terrible 19-of-40 from the foul line. The Crusaders have also struggled from the foul line at points, so free throws could be a huge factor in this game.
Holy Cross has been able to move its season one game past where it ended last year, and the players are happy.
"Players are excited about the opportunity and they are one step from the Sun," Generali wrote.
Before the quarterfinal appearance last year, the Crusaders had missed the state tournament in 2013 (Class LL) and 2014 (Class S). Holy Cross has had a tradition of success under Generali, but things weren't easy in 2013 and 2014. The Crusaders began to get back on track last season, and now they're one game away from the ultimate trip in 2016.
"It's a testament to our seniors and how they have persevered to get this far," Generali wrote. "I'm proud of everyone's efforts to get here!"
Now, it's down to one game against Class S's top seed for a trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena. If Holy Cross wins, it would be the first trip to the Sun for the Crusaders since the championship games were moved there beginning in 2009.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sacred Heart pastes Granby, gets Bloomfield for third straight year

Then top-seeded Sacred Heart boys basketball team put on a defensive clinic in the first half of their Class M state quarterfinal game against Granby Memorial at a packed Alumni Hall.
Charles Fisher was again the defensive leader for Sacred Heart,
though he had a terrific night overall Monday against Granby.
The defense led to transition offense as the Hearts sprinted out to a 20-5 first quarter lead, and 46-11 at the half. Sacred Heart sent its seniors out with a bang in the 93-36 rout. For the third straight year, the Hearts will play Bloomfield in the state semifinal. For the second straight year, it will be played at New Britain High School.
"We know them pretty well, they know us pretty well," Sacred Heart head coach Jon Carroll. "It's almost like a conference game at this point."
Before Bloomfield, Sacred Heart had to get past Granby, and it didn't take long. Senior star Mustapha Heron, playing again in front of future coach Bruce Pearl of Auburn, led the way with 31 points. Raheem Solomon scored 14 points while Tyrn Flowers and Charles Fisher added 12 each. Courie Stevenson tallied eight points in a nice effort off the bench.
It was the last home game for seniors Heron, Flowers, Fisher, J.T. Riddick, Da'Shaun Douglas, Gianni Perrotti, Brandon Austin and Reggie Ligon Jr.
Flowers and Fisher loved playing in front of the crowd.
"There's a lot of alumni that's here," Flower said. "We just try to play strong, do what we do."
Fisher didn't like Alumni Hall's rims when he first started, but he warmed up to them. Fisher gave the home fans something to really cheer about when he threw down a left-handed jam on a fast break.
"It felt great," Fisher said. "I felt it, I felt the bench, I felt our student section."
"Our fans is the best part about it," Flowers said.
Carroll is confident in his bunch in being ready for the Bloomfield game.
"None of this is new," Carroll said. "None of them are in awe of the bright lights."

Photos from the Sacred Heart-Granby boys Class M state quarterfinal

Crosby tries to take down top-seeded Fairfield Prep tonight

It you bleed Crosby blue and don't mind a lengthy ride, get to Alumni Hall on the campus of Fairfield University for 7 o'clock tonight.
Your Bulldogs, the No. 8 seed in Class LL, face top-seeded Fairfield Prep in a quarterfinal round matchup. Crosby needs your support in what will be a tough game, and a tough place to play. The Jesuits always have strong fan support and a big student section, so you Bulldog fans need to show up in droves and make noise for your team.

Prep is the defending Class LL state champion and has lost just once all season. The Jesuits are led by senior Richard Kelly, was named Most Outstanding Player of the SCC Tournament. Kelly is a 6-foot senior. Kelly and 5-11 senior Matthew Gerics are the guards who make Prep go. The Jesuits also have a ton of size, including 6-foot-8 junior Patrick Harding, 6-6 junior Robert Haskins, 6-5 sophomore John Kelly and 6-4 senior Senay Bellete.

Crosby 6-foot-4 senior Daniel Jones and 6-4 junior Jeremiah Kendall will carry the bulk of the load inside, but the Bulldogs need, need, NEED to rebound well as a team to have a chance tonight. Crosby hopes to get another big game from senior Jordan Booker, who went off for 42 points in their second round win over No. 9 Kennedy. The Bulldogs have shown they can be very balanced in scoring the ball at times this season. That also wouldn't be a bad thing tonight.

There's always a tough matchup on the way to a championship, especially in Class LL. This one is a tough one for Crosby, but one it must win to keep its march to the Mohegan Sun Arena going.

Last home game for an amazing Sacred Heart senior class

Hard to believe this is the end, but it is.
The top-seeded Sacred Heart boys basketball team will play its final home game of the season tonight at Alumni Hall at 7. It's a Class M state quarterfinal matchup against No. 8 Granby Memorial.
It is also the final home game for an amazing senior class.
It's the last chance to see Mustapha Heron, one of the best players to come out of Waterbury, and the state, for that matter. After this season, he's off to Auburn to play for Bruce Pearl.
It's the last chance to see Tyrn Flowers, a budding superstar in his own right. Flowers flew under the radar because of Heron, but UMass took notice of the lanky lefty and got a steal.
There's Charles Fisher, a ball-hawk of a defender who often makes scoring very difficult for the opponent's best perimeter threat.
There's J.T. Riddick, a lean inside guy who provides yet another presence under the hoop to go with Flowers and Heron.
It's also the final home game for seniors Da'Shaun Douglas, Gianni Perrotti, Brandon Austin and Reggie Ligon. Yes, they were all honored on Senior Night during the regular season, but this game is win or go home.
All this senior class has done is win back-to-back state championships, and they're working on a third straight title. 
This class, especially Heron, Flowers and Fisher, have provided many a hoop memory in the city over the past several years. They get the accolades, but all the seniors have done their part, whether on the court during the game or when the bright lights aren't on during practice.
Here's your final chance to see them play in the city. Don't miss out.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Holy Cross saw mixed results in state hoop tourneys on Friday

It was a day of mixed emotions for Holy Cross basketball supporters on Friday.
The boys team, seeded fifth in Class, moved on to the semifinals with a 77-41 thrashing of No. 20 East Hampton inside Tim McDonald Gymnasium. Holy Cross earned a date with top-seeded Immaculate of Danbury, a 72-57 winner over No. 8 Westbrook, in a semifinal game to be played on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Masuk High School in Monroe.
The girls were not so fortunate. Playing against top-seeded and undefeated Cromwell, No. 4 Holy Cross hung around for a while in its semifinal matchup at Berlin High School. A big Panther run in the second quarter allowed them to take control, then a back-breaking three-point play at the third quarter buzzer sounded the beginning of the end. The Crusaders saw a great season. end with a 58-46 loss to the Panthers.

Here's more on each game:

No. 5 Holy Cross 77, No. 20 East Hampton 41
The Crusaders jumped out to a quick lead and never looked back against the Bellringers. Nyzair Rountree had another big game for Holy Cross with 21 points. Jonathan Mowatt tallied 16 points, Justin Strielkauskas had 11 and Marcellus Gomes added seven. Each player was strong on the backboards as well for the Crusaders, who improved to 18-7.

No. 1 Cromwell 58, No. 4 Holy Cross 46
The Crusaders held a 22-20 lead midway through the second quarter, then saw the Panthers go on an 11-2 spurt to lead 31-24 at halftime. Holy Cross appeared to be down nine at the end of the third quarter, then Cromwell made an old-fashioned three-point play at the buzzer to go up 43-31. It was too much of a deficit for the Crusaders to overcome. Holy Cross hurt its chances with 20 turnovers against an aggressive Cromwell pressure defense.
Senior RaShana Siders had a big final game for Holy Cross with 30 points. The Crusaders also graduate Caitlin Cipriano, Kaitlyn Grimshaw and Brianna Cracco. Holy Cross ended the season with a record of 24-3.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

ROUNDUP: Sacred Heart boys roll, Crosby eliminates Kennedy in rout

It was a blowout Thursday night for the pair of NVL games that took place in the CIAC state tournament.
Top-seeded Sacred Heart withstood a good early effort from No. 17 Watertown and ran away with a 85-47 victory in their Class M second round contest at Alumni Hall. Senior Charles Fisher wound up having a big night offensively while being his usual active self on the defensive end. Sacred Heart used a big third quarter to knock out Watertown, which hung around in the first half.
The Hearts move on to face No. 8 Granby, a 84-82 double overtime winner over No. 24 St. Joseph of Trumbull. That game is Monday at 7 p.m. at Sacred Heart.
Without leading scorer Jaivaun McKnight, No. 9 Kennedy was no match for No. 8 Crosby in their Class LL second round tilt at The Palace. The Bulldogs rattled off an incredible 29 straight points to turn a close game into a rout, and they won going away by a score of 94-52. Kennedy started with an early flourish, then Jordan Booker took over shooting the ball for Crosby. The Bulldogs went on their crazy run and never looked back. Crosby gets top-seeded Fairfield Prep in a quarterfinal game on Monday at 7 at Fairfield Prep.
Sacred Heart's record improves to 23-2 while Crosby goes to 19-5.
Kennedy finishes its season with a record of 16-7. It was the final game for Eagle seniors Jaivaun McKnight , Darryl Flowers, Jameel Brooks-Norwood, Lorenzo Benjamin, Brandon Espinal, Tyrel Council and Victor Sampson.

Coach Lombardo gives his thoughts about the Holy Cross-Cromwell Class M girls semifinal

Tonight, the No. 4 seed Holy Cross girls basketball team plays for a spot in next weekend's Class M state championship game.
Standing in the way of the Crusader dream is the top-seeded, undefeated Cromwell Panthers in the semifinals.
Holy Cross head coach Frank Lombardo gives his thoughts
on tomorrow night's Class M semifinal against Cromwell.
"Cromwell is a very good team," Holy Cross head coach Frank Lombardo wrote in an email Thursday afternoon. "They have senior leadership, and experience playing in big games."
Lombardo gave some keys to going up against the Panthers.
"I feel we have to force perimeter shots and rebound defensively," Lombardo wrote. "Cromwell does a nice job passing the ball and being patient on offense. I also feel they have good post players who work hard rebounding on the offensive side."
There's a lot to cover with Cromwell, but Holy Cross has been hard at work figuring it out.
"The last couple of practices have been very intense," Lombardo wrote. "We are trying to focus on our team defense. Defending screens, dribble penetration and defensive rebounding have been a focal point."
Defense will be a big key for Holy Cross.
"I think if we play good team defense, that will set the tone of the game," Lombardo wrote. "Creating turnovers will allow us to fast break, which will give us an advantage offensively."
The players are excited about being in the semifinals, Lombardo wrote.
"They players set many goals in the beginning of the year, and now they put themselves in a position to reach those goals," Lombardo said. "I am also very excited for this team. They are a true team. They work very hard in practice and get excited when each other does well."
What's left is for Holy Cross to bring what they've done in practice onto the floor at Berlin High School against Cromwell. The game is scheduled for 6 p.m. and is the first game of a doubleheader. The second semifinal pits No. 2 Enfield against No. 11 Notre Dame-Fairfield. The winners meet at next weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena with the championship on the line.

NVL, Kaynor Tech represented well at Class S Diving meet

NVL and Kaynor Tech were well represented at the Class S boys state diving meet at Plainville High School on Wednesday.
Sacred Heart's David Gallino was the top area finisher, placing second behind champion Liam Simmons of Weston. Sacred Heart's Brennan Sanders was fourth, followed by Holy Cross' Marco Scarpa in sixth, Sacred Heart's Ben Gomes in eighth and Sacred Heart's Russell Foti in ninth. Kaynor Tech's Matheus Silva was 11th and Holy Cross' Tim Lynch took 17th. Gallino, Sanders and Foti are seniors. Scarpa and Gomes are juniors and Silva is a freshman. 
A total of 23 divers competed in the Class S meet.

Previewing tonight's second round boys games

Class M Second Round
No. 17 Watertown at No. 1 Sacred Heart
7 p.m., Alumni Hall, Waterbury
These two teams played in the second game of the regular season at Watertown High School, and the Hearts claimed an 88-58 victory. Watertown was one of 21 Sacred Heart victories against zero losses within the NVL this season, including the league tournament.
Containing Sacred Heart star Mustapha Heron is easier
said than done, but Watertown will give it a shot tonight.

The Hearts were rarely challenged during the regular season and even the NVL Tournament, and they are clicking on all cylinders. The Indians hope to spoil the run of the two-time defending state champions, but it will not be an easy task.

Here's how they got to the second round:
     Sacred Heart -- 94-30 win over No. 32
     Watertown -- 58-43 win over No. 16
     Lewis Mills

Class LL Second Round
No. 9 Kennedy at No. 8 Crosby
7 p.m., The Palace, Waterbury
The Eagles are without a key cog in their attack tonight. Leading scorer and All-NVL guard Jaivaun McKnight will not play due to a school disciplinary issue, according to a report from
the Waterbury Republican-American's Joe Palladino. McKnight didn't play in the first round 
Crosby looks to knock off city rival Kennedy tonight.
win over Cheshire, and it's obviously a big blow to Kennedy, but the Eagles are playing their city rival, so they don't need any motivation. Crosby has also dealt with its own personnel adversity. To make this matchup even stranger, it's the first state tournament game for the Bulldogs. Crosby took a forfeit from Shelton, who had lost a player in a car accident. The teams met twice during the regular season, with the Bulldogs winning both games. Interesting circumstances could make for an interesting game at The Palace tonight.

Here's how they got to the second round:
     Kennedy -- 62-59 win over No. 24 Cheshire
     Crosby -- forfeit from Shelton 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

ROUNDUP: Wilby, St. Paul boys eliminated

Wednesday night was the end of the line for the Wilby and St. Paul boys basketball teams.
A foul shot in the final seconds sent the No. 9 Wildcats home with a 76-75 loss to No. 8 Bassick of Bridgeport in a Class L second round matchup. No. 31 St. Paul saw its run end with a 64-50 loss to No. 15 East Windsor in East Windsor in a Class S second round contest.
Here's more about each game:
No. 8 Bassick 76, No. 9 Wilby 75: The Wildcats used a 16-3 run to close the first half with a 38-37 lead. Wilby was up a point in the fourth quarter when big man Damian Grant fouled out with 5:01 showing on the clock. The Wildcats were still in the game until the end, but one final foul gave the Lions the chance to win the game, and they did. Wilby had a final chance to win, but a mad scramble of a play ended without the winning bucket that the Wildcats desired. 
Wilby finished the season with a record of 17-8. It was the final game for seniors Dimitri Yates, Darrien Bell, Jerquan Smalls, Ahmad Alves, Damian Grant, Ezra Goodman and Shawn Coles.
No. 15 East Windsor 64, No. 31 St. Paul 50: The Falcons couldn't keep the magic going and were eliminated by the Panthers.
St. Paul was down six at halftime, 24-18, but rallied to within three points near the end of the third quarter. That's when East Windsor canned a back-breaking trey to up the lead back to six. The Panthers were able to hold on and move on from there.
St. Paul finished the season with a record of 11-12. It was the final game for seniors Benjamin Mazzone, Jackson Hines, Jacob Palmieri, Chadd Richardson and Michael Ranagan.

Holy Cross boys put away University in Class S second round

The No. 5 Holy Cross boys basketball team raced out to a 9-0 lead in the first quarter of their Class S second round game against No. 12 University on Wednesday night at The Pit.
The Crusaders let the Hawks back into the game at 16-13, then scored 12 of the final 16 points of the half to lead 28-17 at the break.
From there, Holy Cross kept University at bay and claimed a 65-44 foul-infested victory. The Crusaders move on to play No. 20 East Hampton in the quarterfinal round on Friday at Holy Cross.
WATR AM-1320 said gametime is 7:30, but the CIAC lists it as 7, so stay tuned for updates on that. 
DeAndre Wallace led Holy Cross with 14 points and was tough again inside for the home team. Justin Strielkauskas and Jonathan Mowatt each tallied 11 points, according to WATR. Nyzair Rountree scored nine points, Dyllan Tyson had eight and Jack Potter added six for the Crusaders.
One thing Holy Cross will want to work on before Friday is foul shooting. The Crusaders were an awful 18-of-35 from the foul line. Strielkauskas struggled after making his first two, and he's normally a better shooter. Expect Holy Cross to work on foul shooting in practice tomorrow and come out with more confidence on Friday.
Even with the poor foul shooting, the Crusaders move on to the quarterfinals. Next up is East Hampton, and that game is Friday. The winner gets the winner of No. 1 Immaculate and No. 8 Westbrook.