BY KEN MORSE
After finishing the NVL season undefeated last year no one really expected this year’s Naugatuck High boys basketball team to follow in those footsteps. In fact, coach Mike Wilson made it a point to state during the preseason preview that it would be unfair to compare one team with another in any given season.
Naugy graduated the entire starting lineup from a team that compiled a 22-0 mark in the NVL and won its second title in three seasons, so it has come as no surprise that the Greyhounds are riding a roller coaster of the win some, lose some variety this year.
Make no mistake in evaluating the progress of this team. They may be a work in progress, but they got game, nevertheless. Just ask Crosby, one of the NVL’s perennial powerhouse teams. Crosby came into the Ed Mariano Gymnasium on Dec. 30 and took on a young Greyhound team that had righted the course to the tune of a three-game win streak after dropping its season opener.
Crosby hung on for a 54-52 win, but Naugy battled. The Greyhounds led, 13-12, after one quarter. The Bulldogs used a 16-7 second quarter surge to forge a 28-20 halftime lead. In the third quarter, Crosby pushed its advantage to 44-32. The Greyhounds outscored the Bulldogs, 20-10, in the fourth quarter to make the game a nailbiter.
Jalen Francis led Naugy with 16 points while Eliezar Pena dropped in 15. Khaden Moore added eight points with Dylan Gray and Tom Barry checking in with six points each.
“We are making small steps,” said Wilson. “We like the progress Jalen (Francis) is making, but he’s a team first kind of guy and is just finding his way into the offense.”
And Eliezar (Pena) is only a freshman and we are throwing him to the wolves. Not too many freshmen come in and make an impact like Avery (Hinnant) and Ese (Onakpoma) did.”
Naugy came right back to put one in the win column, earning a 50-39 victory over Ansonia on Jan. 3. The Greyhounds had to show their mettle battling back from a 23-19 halftime deficit. They outscored the Chargers, 31-16, in the second half. Vedley Valmyr led a foursome of double-digit scorers with 13 points. Francis had 12 points, Gray contributed 11 and Moore finished with 10.
“We have some decent size up front this year with Khaden (Moore) and Dylan (Gray),” added Wilson. “These guys are still pups. We had some early success, but I told them that don’t mean anything. We are about to go through the gauntlet right now.”
Naugy faced a strong WCA team on Jan. 4 and never got on track in an 83-51 loss in Waterbury. The Greyhounds scored just seven points in each of the first two quarters, and even a 27-point third quarter didn’t mean much as the Spartans matched that output.
Francis unloaded 13 points in the third quarter on his way to a team-high 21. Gray added 11 points and Pena chipped in with eight. A combination of missed layups and turnovers (13) didn’t help matters, but Naugy needed to quickly regroup. The Greyhounds faced rival Woodland on Jan. 6. Tuesday brought a home game against St. Paul, followed by another home contest Thursday against Amistad.
BY KEN MORSE