I’ve covered more games at New Britain High’s Chick Shea Gymnasium than I’d care to count, but the atmosphere has never been as electric as it was Tuesday night for the Class L semifinal basketball game between Farmington and Northwest Catholic.
I arrived at about 6:45 p.m., well before the scheduled 7:30 tip-off, and the place was already nearly full. If you were there, I don’t have to tell you that the Farmington community dominated the scene.
Nearly everybody in the popular student section, The Tribe, was decked out in black. I’d call it a black out but that may conjure thoughts of the October snowstorm. Hey, I live in Unionville’s Lake Garda section. We didn’t see any of Thomas Edison’s inventions doing what they were supposed to for nearly 10 days.
The kids were loud, louder than any group I’ve ever heard at a sporting event. They were enthusiastic but not overly so. When they were asked to stop bouncing up and down due to fears the bleachers could collapse, they heeded the wishes of the New Britain administrators.
“We knew it was going to be like that,” said Northwest coach John Mirabello, one of Connecticut scholastic basketball’s finest gentlemen, a true ambassador for his school and sport and like Farmington’s Duane Witter, a maker of men.
“I came out before the game and stood in the doorway as I was watching them warm up and saw the fans. I thought back to when I was my kids’ age. I thought about them watching. I told [my players], ‘Remember you were a kid, you were practicing and dreaming about things. Look at your experience in here.’ This is a kid’s dream just to be in the layup lines. How great is this? I was really happy they could be in this spot.”
Between my fellow Farmington townsfolk, my dear New Britain friends and my newer circle of friends from Northwest Catholic, I connected with more friends than even Facebook could muster. It’s been a tough year for me as most of my friends know but I felt this warm feeling inside, the kind of feeling that made me wish the evening would never end and that neither team would leave disappointed.
That, of course, cannot happen. The Tribe had little to cheer about with Northwest phenom Kuran Iverson putting on the kind of show that is destined to grace NCAA Division I arenas in due course. Northwest took an early lead and never looked back.
But as I look back on an event I’ll never forget, I conclude that nobody left New Britain a loser.
Farmington coach Duane Witter was comfortable knowing that each and every one of his players turned in great efforts. When Iverson plays at that level, he said, Northwest is going to be virtually impossible to beat.
The Iverson Show had some terrific co-stars, too. Junior Nick Gaynor and senior Aaron Wilson did it all – scored, rebounded, blocked shots, stole the ball and made crisp passes. Point guard Tyler Huffman provided his usual steady performance and center P.J. Edwards filled his role to perfection. If you had the chance to read my game story on the West Hartford News website, you’ll see their names.
But when you’re trying to keep your copy tight, there are aspects of the game into which you cannot delve. The Farmington kids, devastated when their star player and team leader Ben Pollack suffered a season-ending ankle injury Feb. 25, played with the kind of heart that had to fill every Farmington with a deep sense of pride.
Six-foot-five sophomore Obi Momah continued the incredible restructuring of his game. Obi developed into a scorer overnight in the absence of Pollack’s steady double-digit contribution. He had a huge weight to carry if Farmington was going to stay with Northwest, let alone with the 6-foot-9 Iverson and 6-foot-7 Edwards hemming him in.
You rarely see a basketball player improve as much as guard Jalen Hurst did between his junior and senior years. As Pollack’s best friend, he was compelled to step up as a leader as well as raise his level of play a few notches. Jalen, who recently opted to continue his hoops and studies at Nichols College, began slowly as he struggled to deal with the game’s fast-paced rhythm but settled down and finished his career with a flair.
Junior Vasil Borisevich is listed at 5-foot-10. He’s a few inches short of that and was obviously hard-pressed to try and match the athleticism of Wilson and Gaynor. He couldn’t have played much better.
Senior forward Mike English is a football player first. Witter called upon him to make up for Pollack’s absence on the glass but he did more than that. He made a couple steals, blocked a shot and mustered everything within him to compete with the likes of Iverson and Edwards.
Ivan Guadalupe, like English, makes an imposing impact on anybody watching Farmington football. Only a sophomore, he showed that he’s going to be one of Farmington’s greats, but his work in the tournament will serve him well as he pursues his scholastic hardwood journey.
Senior Nieko Labbadia didn’t get a whole lot of varsity time during his career but when Ben went down, somebody had to step in. Witter called his number and received a tremendous effort through the tournament run. Among his seven points was a high-arcing three-pointer that sent quite a message when it slipped through the net.
For sophomore Colin Cheesman and freshman Trey Witter, their day is coming. They’ll step into the rotation next year and join Momah, Borisevich and Guadalupe as Farmington continues to shape its growing basketball reputation. They got a taste of top-shelf varsity competition and looked anything but intimidated.From a basketball perspective, Farmington will benefit from that game against Northwest. From a community perspective, Farmington already has. I know. I’m proud to say I live there.