Firefighters claim Little Pal title

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Jose Guardiano of the Firefighters drives to the basket March 20 in the second game of a best-of-three series versus the Elks. The Firefighters won the game 47-29 to win the Little Pal title. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — The Firefighters had to battle back from an early deficit before turning back the Elks 47-29 March 20 in front of a packed house at City Hill Middle School to win the 2012 Little Pal boys basketball championship.

The Firefighters had a much tougher time in game one of the best of three series escaping with a hard fought 36-32 victory March 16. Jose Guardiano paced the Firemen with 10 points and Aaron Manouse led the Elks with eight points in a defensive minded battle.

The championship marked the second straight undefeated championship season for the Firefighters under head coach Rick Plasky and assistant coach Rick Pelliccia. The Firemen racked up 32 straight wins in the last two seasons.

The number one seeded Firefighters entered the playoffs with a perfect 13-0 record and needed to get by the number two seeded, 11-2 Elks squad directed by head coach Dan Starziski.

“We fell behind by eight points in the first period of game one,” Starziski said. “So we came out a little more focused in game two and we protected the ball a lot better.

“In the three games we have played them this was the first time we had a lead. We were right there at the end then in the fourth period we couldn’t get a shot to go down,” Starziski added.

The Elks raced out to a 12-4 lead in game two of the series threatening to run the Firefighters right out of the gym. Dave Roskosky (seven points) and Matt Festa (five points) both hit three-pointers and Manouse was controlling the boards.

Tyler Deitelbaum and Jalon Metz turned up the defensive effort and forced the Firefighters to turn the ball over. It took over five minutes before the Firemen got on the board when Matt Bourassa buried one from the corner with 2:56 left in the period.

“They controlled the boards early on and we didn’t do a good job taking care of the basketball,” Plasky said. “Our B squad did a tremendous job and got us back in the game. Once we got the lead we were able to press them with our defense and pull away in the last period.”

Joe Colangelo (six points), Alijah Garris (six points,) and Mason Lopes (five points) really had it going on as they fueled the Firefighters furious comeback.

Matt Johnson and Francis Phelan turned up the defensive pressure. Sebastian Puczynski and Charles Doback gave the Firemen a presence under the basket to even the rebounding totals.

Firefighters’ team photo in no order, head coach Rick Plasky, Ethan Vance, Jose Guardiano, Mike Plasky, Matt Bourassa, Mason Lopes, Joe Colangelo, Matt Johnson, Alijah Garris, Francis Phelan, Sebastian Puczynski, Charles Doback, and Kyle Torok. -CONTRIBUTED

Brett Rotatori (seven points) and Christian Bonilla (two points) showed enough offense to keep the Elks out in front. Bob Shannon and Aaron Seeger battled on the boards and at the end of the second period the Elks were clinging to an 18-16 advantage.

The Firemen began to make their move in the third period. Guardiano (10 points) drove the lane for a bucket and on the next trip down the floor Mike Plasky hit a pull-up jumper for the first Firefighters’ lead of the game at 20-18.

Kyle Torok turned up the defense and Ethan Vance (15 points) buried a shot from the key to open a 22-18 advantage.

But the Elks had one more push left. Jim Warren, Zach Alves and Zach Starziski guided the B squad effort as the Elks were within striking distance, trailing 29-27 entering the final period.

Lopes threw in a one-hander off the window and Guardiano hit a turn around jumper in the lane. Vance went on a tear hitting a drive and the ensuing foul shot before rippling the net with a dagger of a three pointer.

The Elks quickly called a timeout trailing 37-27 with 4:38 to go as it was beginning to slip away. The Elks managed just one basket the rest of the way as the Firefighters pulled away to their second straight Little Pal title.