Post 17 caps perfect season with title

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American Legion Post 17 won the Naugatuck YMCA Little Pal championship and finished the season a perfect 14-0. Pictured, top row from left, coach Dave Hayward, Greg Gruenwald, Nathan Shulick, Tyrese Pettway, Tyler Waters, Joe Kwaak, Kody Butler and coach Brett Hayward. Bottom row from left, Luke Slauson, Jake Corbo, Bryce Davis, Joel Guzman, George Cruz and Curtis Brown. –KEN MORSE
American Legion Post 17 won the Naugatuck YMCA Little Pal championship and finished the season a perfect 14-0. Pictured, top row from left, coach Dave Hayward, Greg Gruenwald, Nathan Shulick, Tyrese Pettway, Tyler Waters, Joe Kwaak, Kody Butler and coach Brett Hayward. Bottom row from left, Luke Slauson, Jake Corbo, Bryce Davis, Joel Guzman, George Cruz and Curtis Brown. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — American Legion Post 17 swept the Elks in a best-of-three series to decide the Lil Pal boys championship. Post 17 (14-0) handily won Game 1, 53-29, but the Elks (11-3) put up a fight Monday at City Hill Middle School in Game 2  before coming up short in a 49-42 seat-grabber.

Tyler Waters threw down 16 points and Joe Kwaak added another 15 in Game 1 Saturday at City Hill as Post 17 raced out to a 27-8 halftime lead. Aren Seeger (eight points), Christian Bonillia (seven) and Zack Alves (seven) weren’t enough for the Elks to close the gap.

The same scenario unfolded on Monday in Game 2. Post 17 used its sheer speed and precision passing to run up and down the floor to open up a comfortable 25-9 advantage at the end of the first period.

“The Elks are a well-coached team and they came ready to play ‘til the final buzzer and they did just that,” Post 17 head coach Brett Hayward said. “The difference was we didn’t get rattled when they battled back. We made our free throws, converted our layups and played fundamental basketball down the stretch. It was a great season and a tremendous effort by these kids to finish as undefeated champs.”

Waters led the assault with 11 points, Tyrese Pettway chipped in with 10 points and Kwaak had an all-around game with 10 rebounds, nine points and three assists. Kody Butler added six points and Joel Guzman ran the offense by dishing off four assists and dropping six points as Post was ready to wrap up the title.

Not so fast. Elks coach Dan Starziski’s B-squad hit the floor running in the second period and Bonillia was a force to be reckoned with, recording a double-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.

Dylan Palmer and Ryan Shemanski added baskets with Zack Starziski, Anthony Campano and Justin Carasone helping the Elks cut the deficit to 29-18 at the half.

Alves (six points) and Bobby Shannon (five) tried to bring the Elks a little closer but the Post 17 B-squad managed to hold the lead heading into the final period.

Joe Kwaak (32) and Tyler Waters (4) of Post 17 battle on the boards with the Elks’ Christian Bonillia (30) and Zack Alves (40) Monday night during Naugatuck YMCA Little Pal championship series at City Hill Middle School. –KEN MORSE
Joe Kwaak (32) and Tyler Waters (4) of Post 17 battle on the boards with the Elks’ Christian Bonillia (30) and Zack Alves (40) Monday night during Naugatuck YMCA Little Pal championship series at City Hill Middle School. –KEN MORSE

Luke Slauson threw down four points for Post 17 with Greg Gruenwald scoring from the foul line. Nathan Shulick, Jake Corbo and Bryce Davis teamed up with George Cruz and Curtis Brown to preserve the 38-30 Post advantage.

The Elks’ Pat Brown saved his best for last, scoring six points in the final eight minutes. Brown started the fourth period nailing back-to-back jumpers from the corner to make it a 38-34 game and the Elks fans were in frenzy.

Post managed just one basket in the period on a put-back from Waters but the team was 10-for-20 from the foul line to stay in front.

With 1:20 to go Tyler Dietlebaum hit a shot down on the baseline to make it a 46-40 game as the Elks tried to hang on. Seeger threw one in from the corner to cut the deficit to six again at 48-42 with 45 ticks left on the clock.

But Post took advantage of every opportunity at the line with Kwaak hitting on three of four foul shots. Guzman and Butler sealed the deal, both going 2-for-4 at the line down the stretch to hold on for the 49-42 win.