A comeback for the ages

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By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News

Naugy boys pulled victory from jaws of defeat 21 years ago

NAUGATUCK — In the wild world of sports, there are some games that you remember for the rest of your life.

The Naugatuck boys basketball team played in one of those games 21 years ago; a game that has gone down as one of the greatest comebacks in Greyhounds’ history.

For the players who took part in that game, it served as an incentive throughout their life to never give up. For the coaches, it provided numerous opportunities to retell an unbelievable tale.

On Jan. 11, 2000, the Greyhounds traveled to Seymour to take on the Wildcats. With 5:55 left to play, the Greyhounds trailed by 22 points. The Naugy fans — those who hadn’t left yet — were screaming at then-coach Kevin Wesche to put in the junior varsity players.

“I told the team that those fans leaving were going to miss a great comeback, and they surely did,” said Wesche, who along with assistant coaches Tom McRae and Rick Plasky guided the team.

“We had nothing to lose at that point down 22,” Wesche added. “Seymour started to turn the ball over and we were jumping from the weak side to get traps and steals. It was an amazing win and an awesome comeback.”

Wesche ignored the pleas from the bleachers and inserted Frank Pollifrone into the game. The senior captain was scoreless at that point, but he dribbled down the far side of the court, pulled up and drained a 3-pointer.

Seymour hustled down the other end, but Bob Butkus swiped at the ball and Bob Plourde came away with the steal. Dave Pires took a pass into the corner and rippled the net for another 3-pointer.

“I don’t remember a lot about the whole game but I do remember those last five minutes,” Pires said. “That is just something you never forget. I remember the fans yelling to put in the JVs. We were in a tough spot. We had graduated Mike Wilson the year before along with Steve Pereira, Brian Cardoza and Joe Alvarado, so we were trying to pick up the pieces.”

“We were lucky enough to practice with Mike Wilson the past few years, and he was an awesome player,” Pires continued. “But now we didn’t have a player like that and when we got it down to 12 or 13 points of the lead we started to realize, ‘hey we can win this game.’”

After two more Wildcat turnovers, Joe Bosse took it down the middle for a pair of shots off the glass. Seymour scrambled to call a timeout as the Naugy fans, who moments before were outraged, were on their feet hooting and hollering.

“That brings back some old memories,” Bosse said. “We had a decent team but we played hard, and in that game it showed if you play hard anything is possible.”

The Wildcats tried to stem the tide, but the floodgates were open. Naugy hit free throw after free throw, going 11-of-13 from the line in the final minutes. With under two minutes to play the deficit was down to single digits. Pollifrone and Pires again sank 3-pointers and the noise inside the Seymour gym had reached a fevered pitch.

Naugy outscored the Wildcats by an incredible 36-10 margin down the stretch to pull out a 75-71 win.

“That was one crazy quarter,” Pollifrone said. “I came in with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder and I remember talking to Pires, telling him if we get in there we got to light it up, and we did.”

“Oh my God, that was just amazing,” he added. “We all have greatness inside us, sometimes we are just waiting for that opportunity to let it out. That game helped to shape our lives; never give up, no matter what.”

Bosse scored nine of his game-high 16 points in the fourth quarter, and Pires scored 10 of his 12 points in the final stanza. Pollifrone, who came off the bench scoreless, hit three 3-pointers and scored 10 points with the game on the line.

Ian Robertson and Joe LeFebvre knocked down 12 points each. The defense of Plourde (6 points), Corey Vargas (5 points) and Butkus (2 points) turned the tide in that last quarter.

Naugy went 5-for-6 from behind the arc in the final quarter and was 19-for-25 from the free throw line in the game. The Greyhounds proved one valuable lesson — it’s never over until it’s over.

The Greyhounds finished that season 8-12 and were knocked out of the state tournament in the first round by Buckley. But, for one glorious night, the Greyhounds made history.