NAUGATUCK — It hasn’t been an easy season so far for the Greyhounds, as the coaching staff continues to try to instill a total-team-effort mentality. Naugatuck (0-7) took a big hit last week when leading scorer Warren Buerkle went down with an injury in a loss to Kennedy.
The Greyhounds were just showing signs of putting it together, outscoring both Holy Cross and Woodland in the second half of recent losses. Now, with Buerkle on the sideline, it was gut check time for the young Greyhounds.
On Friday at the Edward Mariano Gymnasium, in front of a hometown crowd bordering on 250 fans, the Greyhounds quickly came unraveled, as Ansonia burst out to a 20-6 first period lead.
Naugatuck has grown accustomed to falling behind early and having to fight back to make a game of it. But with its leading scorer hobbling around on crutches, the outlook appeared grim: The Chargers of Ansonia took a commanding, 36-18 lead at the half.
The 60-49 final kept Naugy winless on the season, but that told only half the story. Most teams doubled-up at intermission would have folded the tents. But Naugatuck isn’t most teams.
Whatever head coach Kevin Wesche told his charges at the half inspired them to come back on the court and stun Ansonia with a 20-10 outburst in the third period.
An effort like that in the face of an 18-point deficit takes heart, a lot of hard work and, most of all, courage. The Greyhounds were not about to pack it in just yet; they continued to throw themselves to the floor for every loose ball, shoved their way into rebounding position and, suddenly, the shots that rimmed out in the first half were rippling the net.
Nolan Kinne (eight points) threw down a runner in the lane and hit the ensuing foul shot. Tyler Krupa (13 points) stepped behind the arc and buried a nothing-buy-net three-pointer, as Ansonia hurried to a timeout.
That did little to slow down the hard-charging Greyhounds. Tyler Krupa again went deep and drained another eye-opener for three, and Naugatuck was fighting to get back in it, trailing, 38-28, with 4:57 left in the quarter.
No longer were the Garnet and Grey looking for a go-to guy. They were all taking responsibility to get back in the game. Kyle Krupa (six points), Tyler Conklin and Matt Zahornasky were clogging the middle, boxing out to give Ansonia only one look at the basket.
Marty DeJesus and Jamaal Gee (four points) were cutting off the passing lanes and creating turnovers. When Dashawn Wingate (six points) barreled down the lane, putting one off the window, it was a 46-38 deficit heading into the final period.
“When the kids come out and play like they do in practice, we can be successful,” Wesche said. “We came out in the second half, and the kids responded. Opportunity knocked, and they were hungry enough to make it happen. The younger kids banged the boards and played hard on defense, and we started to turn it around.”
Shawn Freeney (eight points) blasted into the lane with a pair of baskets to start the fourth period and when Wingate converted two at the line, it was a one-possession game, 46-44, with 6:39 to go.
Dennis Spanhaak (four points) buried a foul shot and with 4:17 left, Kinne hit a pair at the charity stripe, as Naugatuck trailed, 50-47. It marked the third time in the period that Naugatuck battled to within one possession of the lead.
The Greyhounds did not go on to win the game—Ansonia closed it out with a 10-2 run—but Naugatuck did serve notice that no lead is safe, and opponents will need to play a full 32 minutes against this Greyhounds team that is coming together in search of its first victory of the season.
Naugatuck will be back at it this week, when it hosts Pomperaug Monday, travels to Derby Wednesday and welcomes Torrington to the borough Friday.