Hawks, Hounds boys basketball more confident in postseason

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By Ken Morse
Citizen’s News
One thing you can count on when the postseason rolls around, it brings out the best in teams that want to leave it all on the line. The Woodland and Naugatuck boys basketball teams may not have played for a Naugatuck Valley League title, but along the way they made believers out of a whole lot of fans and proved to be teams on the verge of more success.
Woodland turned it on in the second half of the season, going 6-4, including a signature win over defending NVL champion WCA on Jan. 24.
As luck would have it, the Hawks got another crack at WCA in the NVL tournament quarterfinals Feb. 24.
Naugatuck’s Jalen Francis, center, puts up a 3-point shot over Torrington’s DJ Williams, right, during a play-in game of the NVL boys basketball tournament Feb. 22 at Torrington High. jim shannon republican-american
First, the Hawks had to survive a play-in game on the road against an Ansonia team they lost to during the regular season.
Woodland held a slim 36-32 halftime advantage before grabbing a double-digit lead on the strength of a 21-12 third quarter, pulling away to a 72-59 win.
 “It certainly didn’t help to have to play at Ansonia and then come back the next day and play the number one seed,” said Woodland head coach Ryan Sullivan.
“We had some tired legs, but I’m so proud of my guys with the way they responded to that challenge.”
Against (19-4) WCA, the eventual NVL champs, the Hawks competed and trailed, 58-50, heading into the final quarter.
Woodland fell short in their upset bid, dropping a 77-63 decision,  but proved along the way that  it will be a tough out come state tournament time.
Dean Accetura (All-NVL) led the way against WCA with 23 points, James Scampolino had 14 and Ethan Stepputtis added 13 points.
In the play-in win over Ansonia, Accetura had 19, Stepputtis 18, John Napiello 17 and Scampolino 11 points.
“We talked about ramping up our defense,” added Sullivan.
“I knew if we crashed the boards to get rebounds we would put ourselves in a position to win the game. It was a great experience. We have nothing to hang our heads about, and actually this has our confidence up heading into the state tournament.”
The Naugatuck Greyhounds caused just as much of a stir in the NVL tournament.
The road was quite similar. After losing twice to Torrington in the regular season, the ’Hounds needed to face the Raiders a third time and came away victorious, 61-51, in a play-in game on Feb. 22.
Derek Strane led the way with 17 points with Jalen Francis (All-NVL) adding 15 points and Dylan Brooks 10 points. Aaron Sheehan knocked down eight points with Khaden Moore (All-NVL) and Nate Gendron taking care of business under the boards, scoring four points each.
“You are looking for things to come together towards the end of the season, and the game with Torrington was one of those moments,” said Naugatuck head coach Mike Wilson.
“It never has been about one or two guys. It’s about a team and we talked about being a Cinderella story. It comes down to giving yourself an opportunity, and that’s what we did.”
That win on the road gave Naugy the opportunity to take on Holy Cross, another team they lost twice to during the season, in the quarterfinals Feb. 24.
The Hounds shot the lights out, dropping 10 3-pointers through the cylinder, opening up a 39-27 halftime lead.
It was still in the Greyhounds’ favor with four minutes left in the third quarter, 50-34, and they held a ten point advantage, 54-44, going into the final quarter.
The Crusaders finally caught them, tying the game with three minutes to go and eventually escaping with a 60-57 win.
Francis led Naugy with 21 points with Strane and Sheehan both hitting for 12 points each.
In spite of the heartbreaking loss, it was quite evident that Naugy has enough tools in the shed to make a run in the states if they can come out with the same determined effort.
“That was a heartbreaker,” admitted Wilson. “To be up 18 at one point, that was one of the hardest losses we’ve ever had. But in the same breath, one of our prouder moments of the season to be up that much against a team like Holy Cross says a lot about our potential.
Sometimes in sports, things just don’t go your way. Definitely a learning experience.”
Woodland opens up in Div. IV ranked 30th (10-12) and will face off against the 5th-ranked Innovation Ravens (18-2 ) on Mar. 4 with the winner moving on for a second-round matchup Mar. 6 with a chance to advance to the quarterfinals Mar. 8.
Naugy is ranked 23rd (11-11) in Div. II and will take on 10th-ranked Daniel Hand (14-6) on Mar. 4.