Berlin comes back to spoil Naugy’s upset bid

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BERLIN — Naugy couldn’t put away Berlin and Darrin Gilbert made them pay.

Gilbert, Berlin’s junior guard, drilled the go-ahead three with 1:48 left and spoiled the Greyhounds’ upset bid in a Class L first-round game on Monday night. Berlin, the tournament’s No.12 seed, overcame an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit to earn a 62-57 victory over No. 21 Naugatuck.

The Greyhounds finished the season with an 11-11 overall record, while Berlin (15-6) advanced to face No. 5 Branford Wednesday night.

“The bottom line is that we are better now than we were at the start of the season,” Naugatuck head coach Mike Wilson said.

Mick Pernell (13 points) drained a three from the left arc and gave Naugy a 5-4 lead with 5:40 left in the first quarter. The ‘Hounds went on a 16-4 run to take a 13-point lead later in the quarter.

Brandon Kuczenski played big all night and led the team with 15 points — including seven in the opening period. Pernell and Adam Neveski both hit two three-pointers in the first quarter to lift the Greyhounds to a 21-10 lead after the first quarter.

Naugy sustained its first counterpunch of the night in the second quarter. The Redcoats erased a 23-13 deficit in a matter of minutes with a 14-3 spurt.

Gabe Pulliam, Naugatuck’s electric guard, used his speed to draw a foul, hit two free throws and restore the ‘Hounds lead with 1:46 left in the half. Thirty seconds later, Pulliam stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a layup to give Naugy a 30-27 edge.

Kuczenski finished the half with a bucket at the buzzer to give Naugatuck the momentum and a five-point cushion at the half.

The Greyhounds extended their lead in the third thanks to Husani Foote, their ever-improving big man, who notched nine points in the quarter and scored in almost every way possible. Husani completed a three-point play, hit two jumpers, threw down a slam dunk and added a nifty assist to help extend Naugy’s lead to 49-41 after three.

Foote finished with 13 points and Neveski, the team’s lone starting senior, added 10.

“When we were ahead we weren’t settling on offense, we were surveying their zone and were being unselfish,” Wilson said.

Berlin, supported by a raucous crowd led by a 100-member student section dressed in red, slowly chipped away in the fourth as the Greyhounds’ lead evaporated.
Tyler Stritch hit two threes in 1:07 stretch to cut Naugatuck’s lead to 54-51 with 3:40 left.

“We were on the ropes, hanging there for a while,” Berlin head coach Mike Veneziano said. “When you play good D and rebound, you have a chance to win. We were fortunate we hit some shots.”

Kuczenski’s strong play under the hoop led to a Berlin foul and double bonus free throw attempts. He hit one of two to give Naugy a 55-53 lead — their last of the game.

On the ensuing possession, Gilbert hit a three to give the Redcoats a lead and send the crowd into a frenzy. After an empty possession by Naugatuck, Berlin drew another foul and Gilbert made one of two from the line.

Down two, Pulliam had a good look from the top of the key, however his three-point attempt rimmed out. The Redcoats’ defense denied Naugatuck’s hopes of retaking the lead and Berlin hit five of six from the line in the final minute.

“That’s a tough team right there,” Veneziano said of Naugy.

Wilson reflected on the missed opportunity and saw more chances in the future. The Greyhounds return four starters next season.

“We were right there, we just couldn’t get over the hump,” Wilson said. “That’s got to give us a hunger for next year.”