NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck boys basketball team’s journey back to the postseason led the Greyhounds to Norwich on Monday night for a first-round game in the Class LL state tournament.
The No. 26-seeded Greyhounds’ journey ended there, as they fell to No. 7 Norwich Free Academy, 48-35.
The Greyhounds (10-12) came out of the gate with a tenacious defense against Norwich Free Academy (17-4) and held a 14-7 lead after the first quarter.
Naugatuck’s offense struggled after senior guard Corey Plasky sprained an ankle, and the Greyhounds put up just six points total over the second and third quarters. The Wildcats seized the opportunity and control of the game to take a 40-20 lead into the fourth quarter.
Seniors Josh McFarland (10 points) and Shane Swierbitowicz (7 points) led Naugatuck as the Greyhounds outscored NFA 15-8 in the fourth quarter to try and make the comeback.
Senior Tyler Deitlebaum (2 points) added to the offense with sophomore Elijah Robinson (9 points) and freshman Derrick Jagello (7 points), but it was too little too late as NFA secured the win to move on to the next round.
When the season started in the December, the Greyhounds had their hands full trying to turn around last year’s 5-15 finish. Naugy got out to a slow start at 4-8 before things started to click.
Naugatuck head coach Mike Wilson attributed the turnaround to his seniors and players knowing becoming comfortable in their roles.
“We had four core seniors Corey, Josh, Shane and Tyler,” Wilson said. “Those guys brought a toughness to the team. We lost a few players who dropped out because they couldn’t accept their roles. But once everyone got into their roles we started to come together as a team.”
“Tyler was the type of kid who would do whatever was needed for us to succeed,” Wilson continued. “Some games he would play two minutes and other games 20 minutes, whatever the situation dictated. He was tough as nails. He was always ready and willing and was a true team player.”
The development of sophomore Jean Lukau-Mbalandaka, who led the team in scoring, was a big reason the Greyhounds closed out the regular season winning six of the last eight games to secure a spot in the postseason.
Heading into next season the Greyhounds have a quite a few returning experienced players that will give Naugatuck a deep roster, including juniors Jamar White, Rithvik Rajkumar and Jaden Bennett, sophomores Shane Carey and Jesse Lanci, and freshman Keywan Garris.
“Our coaching staff has done an amazing job with these younger guys,” Wilson said. “We made a lot of progress, and the seniors set a great example for these younger kids. They learned what it takes to compete at the next level. It’s a process and we saw a lot of improvement since day one, and it’s definitely something we can build on.”