BERLIN - One by one, Berlin boys basketball head coach Mike Veneziano shook hands with his seniors as they exited the court for the last time in a Redcoats uniform.
With less than 90 seconds remaining on Berlin’s season, as they trailed Amistad by 19 in the second round of the Divison III state tournament, Veneziano called in substitutions for Ryan Hyde, Holden Murphy and Gianni Fanelli, so the three graduating seniors could receive their deserved praise from the crowd before calling it a career.
Venziano and the rest of the Redcoats weren’t just giving a proper goodbye to a group of departing leaders. They were bidding farewell to the vast majority of their offense over the past year.
Last Thursday night highlighted what Berlin will be losing in Fanelli, Murphy and Hyde. The trio combined to score 45 of the team’s 49 points in the season’s final game, including 25 from Murphy. Veneziano acknowledged his team’s sometimes over-reliance on his three leading scorers, which contributed to Thursday’s loss. What will he do without them next year?
“We’re going to have to play really good defense.” Veneziano said with a laugh.
All jokes aside, the Redcoats face a monumental task next season in trying to fill the void of their top scorers. Murphy is an invaluable offensive force that can shoot from the perimeter and drive to the hoop with a high level of efficiency, while Hyde has shown an ability to do the same, while consistently finding Murphy and Fanelli for open looks. Fanelli provided arguably the two greatest moments of Berlin’s season in 2019, hitting a pair of buzzer-beaters to cap off comeback wins, both against Middletown.
“This was obviously a really talented group,” Veneziano said. “They just ran into a really impressive team [last week].”
That impressive Amistad team turned a four-point halftime lead into a 20-point edge by the fourth quarter, which led to the tough exit for Veneziano’s seniors in the final minute of their final game. Along with Murphy, Fanelli and Hyde, fellow seniors Giancarlo Tufano [another starter], John Addamo and Alexander Halkias also checked out for the last time with a sense of reluctance.
“I didn’t want to come off,” Murphy said. “I don’t think anyone ever does. I didn’t want to get off the floor.”
Veneziano likely had a similar feeling. The Redcoats will be in a tough spot when next season begins, as it tries to replace the vast majority of their scoring in one offseason. Veneziano acknowledges the difficult task ahead, but knows that help is on the way. It will just be a matter of how fast that help can arrive.
“We have a really strong freshman class, so we’ll see how long it takes them to develop and get to the varsity level,” Veneziano said. “But that’s public schools. They’re cyclical.”
Even if Berlin’s young talent takes one more year to reach varsity, the Redcoats won’t write off 2019-20 as a rebuilding season. There is still a core of sophomores and juniors who their now former teammates believe can find a way to another winning record without them, as difficult as it may be.
“They’re all hard workers here,” Murphy said. “The juniors and sophomores that I’ve gotten to play with this year, I know that they’ll work hard. They’re losing a lot, but I know they’re going to come back strong and make the playoffs and try and make a run.”