NAUGATUCK — The road to a championship is often littered with potholes and obstructions, sending even the best teams careening into a ditch. The Elks of the YMCA Little Pal senior boys basketball league used a different approach. They took the high road on their way to a perfect season.
The Elks entered the playoffs with a 13-0 regular season ledger to earn the number one seed. They then ran roughshod through the competition, going 4-0 in the postseason including a 2-0 sweep of the Firefighters in the championship series.
The Elks took game one of the championship series, 45-32, last Saturday at City Hill Middle School. In game two, at Hillside on Monday, the Elks stayed perfect with a 42-40 hard-fought win over the Firemen to finish the year 17-0 and claim the title.
“It’s about time,” said head coach Dan Starziski, after his teams have finished as runner-up so many times in the past. “This is our first perfect undefeated season and I guess that’s what it takes.”
Starziski said the team’s balance and defense paved the way all season.
“The strength of our team was our diversity as it seemed like every game someone else would step up and lead the team in scoring,” he said. “We played great defense all year and that’s what got us through game one.”
At the start of the season Starziski and assistant coaches Jon Jagello and Nate Starziski knew they had a special group. But the focus was on finishing games and that began at the foul line.
“We practiced our foul shooting quite a bit as that has been our down fall in the past. We would practice free throws and if someone missed the entire team had to run,” Starziski said. “So, all that hard work paid off.”
The Elks were simply unstoppable at the charity stripe hitting 15-of-22 from the line in the championship series. The Firemen hit on only 10-of-44, and that was the difference in the series.
The Firefighters, under the direction of head coach Glenn Petelle and assistant coach Scott Mastropietro, were no pushovers led by Shane Carey, a rebounding machine.
The Elks were led by Ryan Shemanski and Derrick Jagello with 10 points each in game one. Ray Hess, Anthony Campano and Tyler Demoura led the B squad with four points each.
The Firemen were led by Carey and Matt Carroll with six points each for the A squad. Andres Maldonado put up six points to lead the B squad in game one. Carey made his presence felt pulling down 17 rebounds in game two.
The Firefighters held a slim 17-16 advantage after the first period in game two. The Elks turned up the defensive pressure and led 27-19 at the half.
David Green led the B squad with eight points. Matt Smith added eight points and Austin Herb had nine as the Firemen converted key baskets to tie the game at 35-35 midway through the final period.
Justine Carasone led the Elks with 11 points with Jagello adding eight points. Mark Oladapo led the B squad with eight points. It was the size of Zack Starziski down in the blocks that neutralized Carey (six points), who had scored 28 points in the semifinals.
Jagello (13-of-14 at the line in the playoffs) hit two free throws to put the Elks on top with 30 seconds left. Jay Barth the team leader in steals and blocked shots drained two more freebies with just eight seconds left to seal the victory.
Tyler Markey, Tommy Ayash and Ian Wilkinson played stellar defense the Elks B squad. Dominic Tramontano and Devon Michaud led the Firefighters defensive effort with Trey Matropietro and Evan Petelle along with Kyle Carey and Joe Macary leading the B squad for the Firemen.