SOUTHINGTON - For the first time all season, the Southington boys basketball team is facing a bit of adversity.
After running out to a 5-0 start, the team’s best beginning to a season since going 6-1 back in the 2009-10 campaign, the Blue Knights have now dropped two of their last three games, falling on the road to Conard last week before losing a 10-point lead to Avon on Monday night. Southington, which looked in control up 18-8 at the start of the second quarter, watched the Falcons rattle off a 17-2 surge to leave Southington wondering what changed so quickly.
What the Blue Knights acknowledged after the game was a need to prepare for opponents’ best on a nightly basis, and not take their 5-0 start for granted. More wins means more hunger from opposing teams to take down a successful group, so when Avon fell behind on Monday night, it remained determined to topple the team with one of the top records in the CCC.
“I think we’ve been pretty much the same team,” Southington head coach John Cessario said. “I just think teams are going to come after you even more when they see your record.”
Another factor for the Blue Knights’ recent losses could be the records of their opponents. Through the first five games of the season, all of which resulted in wins, Southington’s opponents combined for a record of 9-29 heading into Tuesday, with the bulk of those wins coming from New Canaan, which is 5-2 on the year and nearly took down the Blue Knights at home before losing 39-38. Conard, which handed Southington its first loss of the season, is 5-2, and after routing 2-6 Simsbury to get back in the win column on Thursday, the Blue Knights ran into the Falcons, who moved to 6-2 on the season with Monday’s win.
Southington, which showed it can play with Avon through the first 10 minutes of the game, still firmly believes in its ability to pick up wins against quality opponents. The past two losses can be the wakeup call the Blue Knights need, showing the team that while it has already shown drastic improvements from the start of last season, when it was 2-6 at this point rather than 6-2, there is still a ways to go to get to where it wants to be.
“We’re playing better teams so we know that we have to step our game up,” senior Jake Napoli said. “But these are good learning experiences for the postseason, which is our goal.”
Cessario also acknowledged the increased competition and wasn’t surprised that when the Blue Knights got away from what they were doing well in the first quarter, Avon pounced and seized control of the game, while forcing Southington into a number of uncharacteristic turnovers that were hard to find through the first five games of the season.
“I think Avon, Conard and Simsbury are really good teams,” Cessario said. “This is Avon’s sixth win and that’s not a fallacy. They’re really good.”
Still, Cessario saw what the Blue Knights did early in the game and knows they’re capable of stringing that type of play together for a full 32 minutes. Having lost two of three and struggling for the first time this season, Cessario wants to ignore that past success and keep his team’s sight set on what will make them better now.
“I really go game-to-game,” Cessario explained. “I tell my players that we don’t look at it like winning six of eight. We lost one of one and we have to get ready for the next game in 72 hours, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
That next game is on Thursday against a strong Maloney team that has won six games already this season, followed by a date with Northwest Catholic, which is 7-1 on the year. The opponents aren’t getting any easier, but the Blue Knights feel they now know what it takes to beat that caliber of opponents, and are ready to get back on track.
“I know our guys,” Napoli said. “We’re competitors. We’ll bounce back from this. We just have to stick with our game plan. There’s going to be games like this, but it’s a long season. We just have to get back to work tomorrow.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com