BEACON FALLS — Usually in high school basketball the opposition shows up with a sparse crowd of its own to cheer on the visitors. On Jan. 16 the Woodland gymnasium was filled to the brim and most of the crowd was from Ansonia.
As the lineups were being announced a strong showing of Ansonia students stood behind the Ansonia bench and shouted in unison, “We got Kingsley.”
This was the night that former Woodland Hawk, Shane Kingsley, came home as head coach for the Ansonia boys basketball team.
Kingsley, who earned All NVL and All State honors in baseball and football as a student at Woodland and is an assistant football coach, coached the Hawks’ freshmen basketball team for three years under Woodland head coach Tom Hunt.
The game marked the first time that the student has faced the teacher.
“It really didn’t hit me until we were coming home from the Torrington game that we would be coming here,” Kingsley said.
The student got the best of the teacher this time, as Ansonia won the game, 71-66.
“Hats off to coach Kingsley for having his guys ready,” Hunt said. “They have been through some close games themselves and in the end it came down to free throws. They showed a lot of composure down the stretch. Our guys left their hearts out on the floor and that’s the way we do things here at Woodland.”
The entire town of Ansonia is excited about its basketball team this year, mainly because the new kid on the block, Kingsley, is a winner. The Chargers started out slow losing the first four games of the season, but followed that up by ripping off seven straight wins.
“We did get off to a slow start with so many football players only having one day of practice under their belt before the season started,” Kingsley said. “But, we have really hit our stride over the past two weeks coming together as a team.”
Hunt said the win streak for the Chargers speaks to Kingsley’s coaching ability.
“I can’t be more proud of Shane for what he’s done in such a short period of time,” Hunt said. “To go into a new situation and set the foundation of the program and turn it around like he has speaks volumes of his competitiveness and his ability as a coach.”
The Ansonia players came into the game knowing full well what it meant to Kingsley and carried an attitude that they were not leaving the court without a win for their new coach.
It was a game fueled by emotions, runs and momentum shifts that went down to the wire.
Woodland took the upper hand after the first quarter with a 17-13 lead. Austyn Brown (21 points) scored seven and Sam Merriman (18 points) added six points in the opening period.
Ansonia caught fire in the second quarter on the strength of 16 points from Tajik Bagley (31 points). A 12-0 run turned a 25-21 deficit into a 35-26 Charger lead.
The Hawks refused to let the game slip away and went on runs of 9-0 and 7-0 to build a double digit lead at 47-37 with 4:06 left in the third. Tyler Collodel (14 points) and Jon Scirpo (11 points) started to heat up for the Hawks.
But a 10-0 Ansonia run closed out the third period, and Woodland clung to a slim 49-47 lead heading into the final quarter. Ja’Quan McKnight (12 points) and Christian Clase (12 points) helped the Chargers get back in the game.
The Hawks stretched the lead to 55-50 with 3:48 to go before the Chargers regained the lead. McKnight hit a three and took a steal coast-to-coast and with 1:47 to play and put Ansonia on top 57-55.
From that point on it turned into a free throw contest that was won by the Chargers. Ansonia hit on seven of 14 free throws through three periods, but iced the game going 17 of 24 from the line in the final quarter.
Scirpo and Brown delivered three-point shots to cut the deficit to three on two occasions, but that was as close as Woodland would get.
The win gave Kingsley another great Woodland sports memory, albeit from a different perspective.
“It was a strange feeling coming back here as the opponent,” Kingsley said. “A lot of great memories in this building and this is another great memory, a little different, but still something to add to the great times I’ve had here.”
Woodland fell to 1-9 on the season after losing to Holy Cross, 92-44, Tuesday and Sacred Heart, 72-36, Wednesday. Brown had a team-high 19 points versus the Crusaders, while Merriman contributed with 10 points. Brown scored a team-high 12 points for the Hawks and Jon Scirpo added eight against Sacred Heart.
Woodland will visit Watertown on Friday, before hosting Wolcott on Monday.