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Cade Ensinger’s eight steals helped the Valley boys’ basketball squad rally for a 67-60 overtime win against Windham in the first round of the Division IV State Tournament last week. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Ernest Jean-Pierre scored 10 points and snagged three steals in the Warriors’ 61-55 victory over Goodwin Tech in the second round of states on March 9. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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The Valley Regional boys’ basketball team was eliminated from the Division IV State Tournament by dropping a 67-59 decision at No. 5 seed Kolbe Cathedral in a quarterfinal game on March 12. The Warriors finished their season with an overall record of 16-9.
Valley opened up states by recording two big wins in the Division IV State Tournament in the previous week's action. The 13th-seeded Warriors hosted No. 20 seed Windham in the first round and pulled off a come-from-behind 67-60 victory in overtime on March 6. Three days later, they prevailed at No. 4 seed Goodwin Tech by a 61-55 final in a second-round matchup.
In both of last those wins, Valley trailed early in the game, but mounted comebacks to go ahead. The most dramatic of the two games was the one against Windham, which led by 15 points in the middle of the second quarter. However, instead of panicking, the Warriors started chipping away at the Whippets’ lead, and that showed Head Coach Kevin Woods how far his players have come since the start of the year.
“We showed poise, and we battled a basket at a time. It didn’t happen all at once. We grinded it out. We didn’t just get hot,” Woods said. “We had big defensive stops, and they’d answer. We just stayed with it and, when we finally got the first lead of the game, there was only 2:30 left to go. We couldn’t have done that earlier in the year. We’ve matured a lot this season.”
The Whippets took the lead in the first quarter by outscoring the Warriors 20-12. By the end of the first half, Valley trailed 32-23. In the third, Valley made a small dent in Windham’s lead by winning the quarter 14-12. The Warriors’ defensive tenacity helped them outscore Windham 13-6 in the fourth quarter to push the game to overtime tied 50-50. In the overtime period, Valley kept up the pressure on its way to the 67-60 victory.
The Warriors received contributions from all over the floor as four players hit double figures in scoring. Cade Ensinger had a great game on both sides of the ball by grabbing eight steals to go with his 10 points, five assists, and a block. Kevin Fasulo also played key minutes by contributing 11 points, four rebounds, and two steals for Valley. Coach Woods said that his bench players had a heavy hand in the win.
“Cade had some huge plays, including a steal and an ‘and-1’ in the fourth that was big. He’s our sixth man, but he’s a virtual starter. He gets starter minutes. He’s embraced that role,” said Coach Woods. “Kevin Fasulo played out of his mind. Our bench play really won the game for us...I think it’s a tribute to our coaching staff having these guys in shape and the way we rotate our guys. We were fresh down the stretch, and they were tired...Those small breaks are the difference for those guys being fresh down the stretch.”
Valley’s starters also put up strong numbers in the win against the Whippets. Ernest Jean-Pierre led the Warriors in scoring with 17 points, while also providing five rebounds, two assists, and a steal. The senior captain is usually tasked with being the Warriors’ defensive stopper, although he’s proved that he can be just as much of a threat on offense.
“Ernest’s a guy we’ve been waiting for to catch fire. As good as he is defensively, he is the same offensively,” said Woods. “He was hot the first few games. If we get him clicking like he has been, we’re so much better. I’m looking forward to see what he does the rest of the tournament.”
Mitch Holdmeyer secured another double-double behind 10 points and 10 rebounds, plus also added a block and a steal. Fellow senior big man Ben Weinstein had 12 points, 15 rebounds, two assists, and a steal for a double-double, as well.
Coach Woods has watched this duo put together an outstanding season, and it’s continuing in playoffs. Woods attributes their chemistry to a lot of practice time together throughout the year, in addition to the fact that they are just strong, physical players.
“They’re very physical and athletic, and that’s a tribute to them getting to the weight room,” Woods said. “They know each other because they play as much as they can together. They always play together in open gym in summer league. It’s fun to watch, two big guys distributing and playing the way they do.”
In its second-round against Goodwin Tech, Valley fell behind once again and trailed 16-8 in the first quarter, but rallied to cut the gap to 23-21 at halftime. Valley started pulling in the third quarter by outscoring the Gladiators 21-15 on its way to the 61-55 victory.
Holdmeyer was a scoring machine by netting 28 points to go with six rebounds, two assists, and a block for Valley. Weinstein had seven assists and 10 boards, while Jean-Pierre scored 10 points and had three steals. Coach Woods said his team’s dominance inside helped give Colin Sparaco some breathing room on the perimeter, and Sparaco responded by draining six 3-pointers for an 18-point performance
“Mitch wasn’t getting a chance to rebound as much against Goodwin, but he could have had 40 points with a couple of in-and-outs,” said Woods. “We got the ball inside to get him a lot of opportunities, and it opened up a lot of other guys.”
From the Sidelines
Prior to the Division IV State Tournament, the Valley Regional boys’ basketball squad competed in the Shoreline Conference Tournament, defeating Old Lyme 60-35 in the quarterfinals, before dropping a 66-53 contest against Cromwell in semis.
During the regular season, the Warriors grabbed wins against Hale-Ray (71-48), Morgan (58-42 and 76-62), Haddam-Killingworth (64-54 and 73-40), Portland (66-54), Old Lyme (58-53), North Branford (59-36), Westbrook (74-42), Rockville (76-45), Creed (60-50), Coginchaug (63-52), and Windham (76-66).
Head Coach Kevin Woods’s coaching staff includes assistant coaches Lou Rolon, Anthony Pagano, Brad Piven, and Bobby Sanchez, and along with JV Head Coach Scott Harger.
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