Winter sports are venturing deeper into the postseason, meaning teams will be up against tougher competition with each passing contest.
Coaches are looking for big performances in order to survive, and last week, Innovation’s Carlos Gonzalez and Berlin’s Maxine Muscatello provided such performances, earning them Athletes of the Week.
The Innovation boys basketball team rolled to a 76-45 victory over Aerospace in the CRAL semifinals on Friday night, with Gonzalez chipping in 15 points with nine of his final point total came from beyond the arc. His active defense also helped the Ravens force 29 turnovers as Innovation advanced to the tournament finals, which will be tonight.
“There was one time during the game where he had to ask for a substitution,” Innovation head coach Matt Lance said. “I looked at my assistant and told him this was easily the hardest Carlos has defended in a long time. He [went] all-out, on the ball and away from the ball. He was really good.”
Gonzalez’s suffocating defense has also translated to the other end of the floor, where he’s dropped 37 points in the last two games, including 22 in the team’s regular season finale, which tied the highest individual mark of the game.
Lance has noticed Gonzalez being more careful with his shot selection of late, which has made a naturally gifted shooter perform even better on the court.
“I think there’s been two things about his play that have changed,” Lance explained. “One, he’s just starting to make more shots. He’s a really good shooter who’s starting to take smarter shots, which is why his percentages have gone up recently. Also, the last two games have been the most he’s gotten to the rim all season. He’s diversified his offense. He’s been scoring from more than just the 3-point line, which is a good change for him.”
Gonzalez’s offense has also become more complete thanks to an improving ability to find other open shooters, which was apparent in the regular season finale, when the senior dished out six assists. With tall scorers like Lenny Okonya and LJ Hazelwood lingering around the rim, Gonzalez has begun to find them more often and help Innovation build large leads.
“He’s been distributing really well,” Lance said. “He may be known as a shooter, but he can facilitate for a lot of players when his shots aren’t falling.”
Another athlete has been performing well at the right time, as Muscatello of the Berlin girls indoor track team helped her 1600 sprint medley team finish in second place at the State Open last Saturday. Muscatello, the lone senior on a relay team that includes three underclassmen, helped the Redcoats finish less than a half a second behind first place finisher East Lyme.
While the team came up just short of standing at the top of the podium, the performance still guaranteed a spot at the New Balance National Championships in New York City on March 8.
“It’s such a great feeling,” Muscatello said. “To have it happen my senior year makes it even more special.”
It means even more for Muscatello after she qualified for the event as a freshman, but was unable to compete. While she always assumed she would be back as a sophomore, it took three more years for it to finally materialize.
“We had a big group of kids that went that year, maybe 10 or 11, and she was slated to go,” Berlin coach Steve Soucy said. “I think she thought she would just go the next year, but it’s not that easy.”
Now three years wiser, Muscatello is focusing on making sure the underclassmen on her medley team don’t make the same mistake as her, and realize what it takes to make it to the national championships.
“That’s been a big factor,” Soucy said. “For Maxine, it’s really important for her to make sure the team stays focused and realize the opportunity they have.”
Muscatello is grateful to be back to where she could have been as a freshman, but wants more than just the opportunity to compete. The senior wants to leave a historic mark in the Empire State and ensure her group a chance to return for the outdoor track national championships in the spring.
“We really want to set our school record,” Muscatello said of the sprint medley team’s goals. “We want to qualify for outdoor nationals by bringing our time down a couple seconds, and have a chance to be successful there.”