Locked in as the fifth seed in the South-West Conference playoffs, Newtown High School’s boys’ basketball team had a lot less to lose than Bethel, its final opponent of the regular campaign, on February 25. Already out of the eight-team SWC playoff mix, the visiting Bobcats needed a win to qualify for the state tournament, and jumped out to an early 11-2 lead. Newtown, however, fought back for a slim halftime lead — 22-20 — before pulling away for a 64-45 triumph.
“After losing two in a row I thought we needed to get into the SWCs on a high note and I think we did that tonight,” said Newtown Coach Tim Tallcouch, whose team had dropped road games at Immaculate of Danbury and Bunnell of Stratford, February 21 and 22.
Against Bethel, the Nighthawks went ahead 14-13 when Brian LeBlanc sank a 3-pointer, part of an 18-2 run to erase that early Bobcats’ lead. In the third quarter, Jake Ball hit a pair of 3-pointers and Julian Dunn had two baskets in close, one on a nice setup from Chase Wurtz, and the Nighthawks turned a 22-22 tie into a 34-22 cushion. There was no looking back in this Senior Night win.
Things got chippy as a little chitter-chatter turned into some pushing between players but, ultimately, cool heads prevailed.
Dunn led the way with 23 points, LeBlanc had 13, Ball scored 12, and Troy Frangione added 10. Frangione, the team’s point guard, didn’t commit a turnover. Dunn had nine rebounds and five assists.
Tallcouch thought the play of Ball on both ends of the floor was key to his team pulling away in the third and fourth quarters. He also noted that contributions came from up and down the lineup — Wurtz with tight defensive play and ball movement, and Jeremy Doski, Charlie Huegi, Jacob Burden, Harrison Depuy, and William Dalton all made contributions.
The Nighthawks have had to rely on their depth since senior Mike Davis left the Immaculate game with an injury, leaving him out of the lineup indefinitely. Davis provided height and now the team may have to look more to the speed element as a weapon in the playoffs, Tallcouch acknowledges.
Newtown will look to ride its second-half wave of success, during which it outscored Bethel 42-25, in the opening round of the SWC tournament, scheduled to begin on Saturday, March 1. The Hawks will take on No. 4 Kolbe Cathedral of Bridgeport at 5 pm on the Bunnell High court.
The Nighthawks split a pair of regular-season games with Kolbe, losing by nine in a nonconference battle in December, then walking all over the Cougars to the tune of a 22-point blowout only a week later. Kolbe, however, won’t be taken lightly. After all, the Cougars did beat Newtown once, and also handed top-seeded Notre-Dame Fairfield its lone conference loss heading into its finale, against Joel Barlow of Redding on Wednesday.
And Tallcouch knows it stands to be a battle on any given night in conference play. His squad nearly defeated Notre Dame, before falling in a four-point outcome in mid-January. Immaculate and New Fairfield both went just 7-7 in SWC play this year, but each earned one of their wins against a Newtown team that finished 10-4 in conference play and went 12-8 overall. The Hawks were involved in a dozen games decided by single digits.
Newtown’s four most recent games didn’t end up being all that close when all was said and done. In a busy stretch that included a pair of makeup contests that had been snowed out, the Hawks defeated Masuk of Monroe 73-44 on February 19. Dunn had 21 points and LeBlanc added 17 in the win. Two nights later, Immaculate won 66-54 despite 16 from Dunn, a dozen from LeBlanc, ten from Ball, and seven from Davis before being injured. The Hawks had a balanced scoring attack in a 62-43 setback to Bunell (which finished 12-2 in conference play). Dunn scored eight, and Frangione, LeBlanc, Doski, and Depuy all added six.