BY KYLE BRENNAN
WATERBURY — There was no doubt all season. The Naugatuck Valley League final just made it official.
The top-seeded and undefeated Naugatuck boys basketball team cruised to its second league championship in three years, beating No. 2-seeded Kennedy, 58-42, before more than 1,000 fans March 2 at Wilby High.
This title was different, though, than the breakthrough championship the Greyhounds won in 2020. That year, they entered the tournament as an underdog to reigning champion Sacred Heart. This year, Naugy was the target everyone gunned for all season.
“It was a lot more stressful and there were a lot more times when I was having sleepless nights,” Naugatuck coach Mike Wilson said. “It’s a lot easier being the underdog. When you’re expected to win, it’s a great privilege.”
The Greyhounds (23-0) led wire to wire in the league final, first pushing the pace in the first period and then slowing the game to a defensive slugfest that frustrated the Eagles all night.
The game was physical and tempers flared multiple times in the second half, but Kennedy never threatened to make it close after halftime.
“We always talk about defense first and the offense will follow,” said Naugatuck big man Avery Hinnant, who scored 13 points and thunderously rejected several shots. “We had to lock in and do our best.”
Naugy’s offense didn’t center on one player, but rather four of the five starters. Ese Onakpoma, the tournament MVP, led all scorers with 21 points, while Jayshawn Lindsay added 14 and Evan Swanson had nine. Swanson, the senior point guard, calmly led the offense during chaotic stretches.
“They’re always looking for me and I always see them,” Swanson said of his teammates. “Our offense works very well.”
Onakpoma, who was joined by Hinnant on the all-tournament team, saw room for improvement but also realized that it was enough to win a battle against a tough opponent.
“I think we played pretty good,” Onakpoma said. “We have some things to work on, but at the end of the day, we did what we had to do.”
Wilson said he expected nothing less from the Eagles and acknowledged that it was a good final test before Naugy entered the Division I state tournament as the top seed.
“We knew it would be a war. It’s NVL basketball,” Wilson said. “We knew Kennedy would be prepared. They’re a tremendous team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in a state championship.”
Naugatuck, which won its eighth league title and also became the first NVL school since Holy Cross in 1996 to win the football and boys basketball championships in the same school year.
BY KYLE BRENNAN