NAUGATUCK — The Firefighters finished off a perfect season with their first-ever Little Pal championship, sweeping defending champion NVSL, 2-0, in the best-of-three series.
The Firefighters, who ended the regular season at 13-0, escaped with a 51-48 victory in Game 1 over the third-seeded Bankers (9-4), last Wednesday at Hillside School. Jason Bradley led the way for the firefighters scoring a game-high 22 points.
Maleek Brooks led NVSL with 19 points. Dan Jones added 11 and Vashon Carridice threw down 10. The Bankers were trying to become just the fourth team in the last 20 years to win back-to-back titles under head coach Dave Mariano and assistant coaches Peter Mariano and Joe Campos.
NVSL got to the championship round by getting past the second-seeded Elks (12-1) in a 53-52 semifinal barnburner, as Brooks scored 18 and Jones added 15.
The Elks were led by Sean Kennedy with a team-high 11 points. The scoring was spread around as Matt Festa scored nine, Aaron Manouse added seven, and Mike Popesou and Maurycio DaSilva knocking down six each.
On Saturday at City Hill Middle School, the Firefighters were looking to conclude the perfect season as NVSL had one last shot to extend the series to a decisive Game 3.
The Firefighters came out and dominated the boards and that led to a 16-10 advantage on the scoreboard at the close of the first period. Evan Pelliccia knocked down eight of his team-high 14 points in the opening period for the Firefighters.
Jose Guardiano (13 rebounds, six points) led the Firefighters in the paint as they out rebounded NVSL by a healthy 47-31 advantage as indicated by the final, 53-36 score.
Brooks was a workhorse for the Bankers, registering a double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds. The key to the first period spread came by the way of the Firefighters’ defense that created six turnovers in the quarter and 18 for the game.
Six players had two steals each in the game as the fundamentally sound Firefighters kept the pressure on when the ‘B’ squads came out for the second period. Five different players found their way into the scorebook and the unselfish Firefighters showed a total team effort, recording 16 assists for the game.
“We have one of the best ‘B’ squads in the league,” said Firefighters head coach Rick Plasky, who along with assistant coach Rick Pelliccia led the team to an undefeated season. “They play fundamental basketball and they can all pass and hit the layup. Our ‘A’ squad is a very talented group that has learned to play as a team.”
Jones had a stellar game for the Bankers (eight points, nine rebounds, six steals) but it did little to slow down the consistent teamwork displayed by the Firefighters. Alijah Gurris hit a pull-up jumper and Matt Bourassa scored down on the baseline with Ethan Vance (four points, four assists) dishing off both buckets to open up a double-digit lead at 22-12 for the Firefighters.
Dave Riddick scored down low after Jacob Bourdeau pulled down a rebound but the Bankers could only pull to within 26-18 of the lead at the half.
Carridice hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 26-21 after halftime, but Marc Guardiano connected on back-to-back shots to push the Firefighters ahead, 32-23, when the ‘B’ squads came on at the four-minute mark of the third period.
Mike Plasky (four points, four rebounds) showed great court awareness as he dove to the floor for steals and battled down low for rebounds as the Firefighters started to pull away. Mason Lopes, Kyle Torok and Joe Colangolo made their presences felt in the paint as the Firefighters lead grew to 38-27 entering the final period.
NVSL showed some hustle under the basket as Jones had four consecutive rebounds in a one-possession sequence but nothing would drop through for the Bankers. Joe Pruchnicki had a block and Jake Gingold (six rebounds) started to become a force in the paint for NVSL. Kevin Pimpinelli and Tyler Kusmit lent a hand defensively but it was too big a hole to climb out of as the Firefighters’ lead grew.
E.J. Gunnison (eight points, six rebounds) hit a shot on the wing to build a 47-31 advantage with under three minutes to play.
Mike Campos’ free throws and Noah Williams’ blocked shot tried to get NVSL back into it but the deficit was too much to overcome.
“It was a great run,” said Plasky. “We had a couple of tough ones with the Elks and NVSL, but these guys stepped up and were ready for the challenge. These kids did a great job this season and showed what you can accomplish with teamwork.”