Competitive fire burns bright

Woodland’s Mickey Meier (20) goes to the basket as Wolcott’s Justin Fernandes defends the shot Monday at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. Wolcott won the game, 58-50. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

When the ball is in the air there is only one thing that matters, the desire to win. Regardless of a team’s record the fire of competition burns strong.

The Naugatuck boys basketball team earned its eighth win of the year with a 55-49 victory over Wolcott on Tuesday to clinch a berth in the Class LL tournament. At 1-15, the Woodland boys are entrenched in a rebuilding season.

Seeing the way both teams compete on the court one wouldn’t know the difference. The battles in the paint for rebounds have the same amount of collisions, and loose balls are chased down by multiple players diving to the floor.

The Greyhounds (8-10) were ranked 29th in Class LL as of Tuesday. With games left against Watertown on Friday and Oxford on Feb. 22, Naugatuck head coach Mike Wilson is hoping there are a couple more wins in the bag to improve the Greyhounds’ seeding.

“We have a few more games out there that we can put in the win column,” said Wilson heading into Tuesday’s game against Wolcott. “We talked about ten wins at the start of the year and we have three games left, so it’s within reach.”

The Greyhounds have a bevy of seniors to see that goal through with Shane Swierbitowicz, Corey Plasky, Josh McFarland, Tyler Deitelbaum, Andre Trosan and Aijah Garris.

Swierbitowicz led the way versus Wolcott (6-12) with 20 points.

That senior experience on the court has blended well with junior Jamaar White and sophomores Elijah Robinson and Jean Lukau-Mbalandaka, who put up 17 points on Tuesday.

The season has been an up and down trek for the Greyhounds. Naugy appeared to have turned the corner after ripping off three wins in a row, its longest streak of the season, early this month. But that was followed by a tough overtime loss to Torrington on Feb. 6 and a 66-42 loss to perennial power Sacred Heart on Feb. 8.

“It all comes down to being mentally tough this time of season,” Wilson said. “We have the opportunity it’s up to us to go out and get it.”

Woodland is led by senior captains Rich Rousseau and Adem Rifati and fellow seniors Alex Rindos, Dylan Sender, Brendan Rowley, Joe Witkowski, Zach Marquis and Josh DePalma.

That would not seem like a roster that’s rebuilding, but the captains have the most court experience. Filter in sophomore leading-scorer Zack Bedryczuk and sophomores Ryan Swanson and Justin Marks, and the Hawks have a few players that are developing nicely.

Naugatuck’s Shane Swierbitowicz scored a game-high 20 points Tuesday in a 55-49 win over Wolcott. The win clinched a state tournament berth for Naugatuck. –FILE PHOTO

Juniors John Frasco and Kyle Macek have seen varsity minutes this season along with sophomore Michey Meier and freshman Mike Szturma.

“I’m real pleased by the leadership of our seniors keeping this all together,” Woodland head coach Tom Hunt said. “We have a lot of new guys coming into the system, and it’s taken us a lot longer than we would have hoped for. But now we are playing competitive basketball.

“One of our seniors said last week they wished we could start the season now with what they know now, we might have had a few more games in the win column.”

On Saturday, the Hawks held a 30-25 lead at the half against a Torrington (11-6) team that is headed to the state and the NVL tournaments. A lapse in the third quarter that saw Torrington outscore the Hawks 15-7 led to a 63-58 loss.

Rousseau and Bedryczuk led Woodland with 17 and 15 points, respectively.

Woodland saw a 41-39 lead evaporate on Monday as Wolcott outscored the Hawks 19-13 in the final quarter to take a 58-50 win. Sender led the way this time with 15, followed by Bedryczuk with 14.

On Tuesday, the Hawks fell 75-53 to Seymour (10-6). Rousseau and Sender combined to score 27 points for Woodland.

The Hawks will play Derby on Thursday. Woodland will close out the season next week against HMTCA on Feb. 21 and Kaynor Tech on Feb. 22.