FAIRFIELD—The Stratford PAL 7th grade boys basketball team has never backed down from a challenge.
So, in the third quarter of Saturday’s Fairfield County Basketball League B-Division final, when the PAL’s opponent from Harwinton went on a 20-point run to take a lead into the fourth quarter, Stratford simply responded by charging back.
In the end, though, time ran out on Stratford and Harwinton escaped with 41-39 win at Notre Dame-Fairfield’s gym.
“I’m so proud of these guys, to get here in our first season,” Stratford PAL coach Bryan Generous said.
TJ Wright led the Stratford PAL charge with 15 points while Michael DeVitto chipped in 13 and JT Turnage added eight.
For Harwinton, eight different players scored, with Eli Peletier leading the way nine points, all in the second half.
The Stratford PAL program is only in its third year of existence, Generous said, and after playing for two years in the Milford Knights League, this year’s group looked to step up its game this winter.
“The FCBL is considered the top league in the state,” Generous said. “We played some really good teams.”
Harwinton, the third seed out of the FCBL’s B-West division, was one of the good teams Generous talked about.
The HYSA squad erupted for 21 third-quarter points, including 20 in a row to turn a 19-11 Stratford lead into a 32-25 advantage.
Harwinton built its lead as high as 39-27 early in the fourth quarter before Stratford came storming back.
DeVitto started the run with a bucket and Noisette added a foul shot to get the deficit to nine (39-30) with under four minutes to play.
DeVitto then stole the ball and finished the lay-up (39-32) and after a Harwinton miss Noisette drained a 3-point shot (39-35).
Suddenly, it was a ball game again.
Max Dinuzio finished a lay-up as Harwinton niftily broke Stratford’s desperation press, but the PAL kids kept fighting back.
After three misses on one possession, DeVitto—who had six of his points in the final quarter—scored off a put back to get it back to a four-point game.
A drive to the hoop and finish by Wright cut it to a two-point game with under a minute to play.
Harwinton missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Stratford a chance to tie it.
In fact, Stratford had two.
After missing a shot and having the rebound go out of bounds of Harwington, Generous called time-out to set up an inbounds play under the Stratford basket.
The shot missed its mark, however, giving Harwinton the championship.
“Some people will tell you we’re a little 3-point heavy, but we play hard and fast,” Generous said. “I like to get up and down the floor. This was a fun matchup. They liked to press, and we were able to break it at times. They were a fun team to play.”
Generous didn’t want to use it as an excuse, but his team was undermanned for the game.
Two of his post players, brothers Jayden and Darren Fabre, were away for a family wedding and missed the game.
“I’m down to seven guys and they were my two centers,” Generous said. “But it’s no excuse. I think we were a bit gassed. Maybe I should have had used my timeouts better.”
Stratford now faces the challenge of getting ready for next year’s 8th grade season.
This winter season isn’t quite over yet for these boys, however. The squad is still alive in the CT HoopFest tournament and defeated Guilford White 47-28, advancing to the playoff round of that tournament after a 2-1 pool play record.
HARWINTON 41, STRATFORD PAL 39
STRATFORD PAL (39)
Jaylin Noisette 1 1-2 4, JT Turnage 3 0-0 8, Gio Noel 0 0-0 0, Michael DeVitto 5 1-2 13, TJ Wright 6 1-2 15,Ezra Fearon 0 0-0 0, Khaiser “Bear” Bryant 1 0-2 2, Totals 16 3-8 39
Eli Peletier 3 0-1 9, Charlie Joiner 3 1-2 8, Tristen Mooney 3 0-0 7, Max Dinuzio 2 0-0 4, Elliott Halprin 1 0-0 2, Ryan Grant 0 1-2 1, Jamison Sederquist 2 1-2 5, Aiden Carano 0 0-0 0, Jack Nestor 2 0-0 5, Totals 16 3-7 41
STRATFORD PAL 8 11 6 14–39
HARWINTON 7 4 21 9—41
3-pointers: S—Wright, Noisette, Turnage, H—Peletier 3, Nestor, Mooney, Joiner; Team Records: Stratford PAL 7-6 FCBL (22-15 overall), Harwinton 11-4.