Published 1:39 pm, Wednesday, March 22, 2017
No-one said it would be easy.
Banging their way through a wild playoff ride, the New Canaan Black sixth grade team captured the FCBL A Division Championship with a hard fought 51-46 victory over Mt. Vernon Saturday afternoon at Ridgefield High School.
The Rams had a tough road to the Championship, playing three outstanding teams in the playoffs. In the quarterfinals, the Rams had to travel to Torrington, to play an AAU team from Springfield Mass—the ECBO Running Rebels.
The Rebels, who only lost one game all year, were a very tough and complete team, with excellent guards, as well as a big and strong front line. ECBO jumped on the Rams, quickly taking a 7-0 lead. The Rams took a time-out and made some adjustments, and the boys responded, grinding their way back into the game.
With 4 minutes to go, the Rams were down five and went on a run, executing their offense and playing lock-down defense.
“ECBO is an excellent team, and well coached.” Assistant Coach Ed Huydic said. “Our bigs, Gio Cascione, Ty Groff, Trey Hartnett, Matt Salmini, Andrew Rittenberry, and Jacob Dowdle, fought tooth and nail over every rebound, and our guards, EJ Crawford, Blake Wilson, Danny Rogers, Jerome Roscoe, and Hunter Nelson handled their pressure. In the end, Crawford’s shooting and Wilson’s athleticism really helped us, and we got a big lift from our bigs hitting our free throws down the stretch. It was a refuse to lose mentality.”
The Rams were led by Crawford with 23 points, five rebounds, and five assists; Blake Wilson with 12 points and four assists; Ty Groff with seven points and 14 rebounds and Trey Hartnett with nine points.
Next up for the Rams was Westport PAL, which had not lost a game all year. Over the last two years, Westport has been the Rams nemesis, beating them four times by a combined 10 points, including a heartbreaker in last year’s playoff semi-finals.
In that game, the Rams had a one-point lead when Westport’s outstanding shooting guard Gavin Murphy swished a 25 foot 3-point jumper to give Westport a two-point victory. Westport went on to win the Championship by 44 points in the Final. Over the last 2 years, Westport has lost just one game.
Needless to say, the Rams had their hands full. The game was, as all of the games between these two fierce rivals, back and forth, with Westport taking a lead, then the Rams fighting back. Neither team was able to go up by more than five. With three minutes to go, Westport had a five-point lead, and the Rams took a time-out.
Westport was putting a lot of pressure on the Rams outstanding guard duo of EJ Crawford and Blake Wilson, so the guards drew the double team and dumped the ball down low to the Rams front line, where Cascione, Salmini, Trey Hartnett and Ty Groff did the rest, making big shots and hitting free throws.
The Rams again played lock-down defense, scoring the last 10 points of the game, and emerging with a 48-43 win.
“While Crawford and Wilson did a lot of the scoring, it was the little things that don’t go in the box score that won the game,” Assistant Coach Ike Groff said. “Our bigs set great screens, grabbed rebounds, played great defense. Westport is a great shooting team, and we were able to shut them down at the end of the game, then hit our free throws.”
Leading the way for the Rams was Crawford with 14 points, four rebounds and four assists; Wilson contributed 12 points and four assists; Cascione had 10 points and five rebounds; and Groff pulled down eight rebounds.
In the finals, the Rams squared off against Mt. Vernon, a program steeped in a rich basketball tradition, having sent many players to Division I college programs, and some to the NBA.
Mt. Vernon has a huge size advantage over the Rams, and combined with excellent guard play, presented a formidable opponent.
As in the ECBO game, the Rams fell behind early, trailing 12-3 after four minutes. The Rams called a time-out to make some adjustments, and went on an 8-0 run to pull within one. The game settled into a back and forth affair, with Mt. Vernon holding a slim margin as the two teams battled intensely.
It was a great atmosphere in the packed Ridgefield gym. New Canaan took a time-out with three minutes to go, trailing by five.
In what has become their signature, the Rams tightened up on defense and executed on offense. Point guard Crawford got hot, hitting two 3s and going 6-6 from the line as Mt. Vernon had to foul. Cascione also hit two big free throws, and the Rams pulled out a hard fought 51-46 victory to win New Canaan’s first A level Championship in seven years.
“I’m tempted to use the analogy of David and Goliath, they were so much bigger than us, but we scraped and battled and found a way,” Head Coach Fred Crawford said. “Wilson and Crawford handled their constant pressure, Cascione and Groff fought down low every trip, EJ and Cascione hit huge free throws down the stretch and Andrew Rittenberry gave us a huge lift off the bench, grabbing key rebounds, hitting big shots, and making great passes. What a game he had.”
The Rams were led by Crawford with 19 points five rebounds and four assists; Wilson with 12 points, four rebounds and four assists; Groff with 10 points and 13 rebounds and Andrew Rittenberry with six points and eight rebounds, and three assists.
This year the Rams went 30-4, beating out 62 teams to win the Milford pre-season Championship, winning the Bristol Holiday tournament, and culminating the season with the FCBL Championship.
“This is a team in every sense of the word,” Crawford said. “They work hard, and most importantly they look after each other and help each other every day to get better. That says a lot about them and their families.
“Our practices are often harder than our games, they compete so hard. We are very proud of them.”
Congratulations to the team; Gio Cascione, Ethan Crawford, Jacob Dowdle, Ty Groff, Trey Hartnett, Hunter Nelson, Matt Salmini, Andrew Rittenberry, Danny Rogers, Jerome Roscoe, and Blake Wilson.