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Cougars Played Their Best Down the Stretch
Senior captain Jimmy McGoey and the Haddam-Killingworth boys’ basketball team played strong down the stretch to earn a record of 7-7 this year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source)
Mason Gorham (right) scored 16.4 points per game on his way to making the All-Shoreline Conference First Team for the Cougars as a sophomore. Pictured on the left is senior captain Chase O’Linn. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source)
Senior captain Alec Erskine and the H-K boys’ basketball team made a statement by claiming a 50-point victory versus Coginchaug in the quarterfinals of the Shoreline Conference Tournament. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source)
Captain Tony Giambanis was one of five seniors who led H-K boys’ hoops on the court during the 2021 winter campaign. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source)
Even though the Haddam- Killingworth boys’ basketball team lost three of its first four games this year, Head Coach Jim Abbott knew that the Cougars had what it took to bounce back from that rough start. H-K lived up to its coach’s hopes and then some by winning six of their last 10 to finish at 7-7 overall, ultimately advancing to the semifinals of the Shoreline Conference Tournament.
“I am very pleased with the season. After starting 1-3, we went 6-4 the rest of the way and had a chance to win every game,” Coach Abbott said. “I was able to coach a great group of kids who make the job fun every day. It was difficult at times, but the players hung in there and worked really hard. That’s all I can ask for as a coach.”
Senior captain center Jimmy McGoey garnered All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention for the Cougars after averaging 13.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this year. McGoey guided H-K alongside fellow captains Chase O’Linn and Alec Erskine, who are both guards; captain Tony Giambanis, a guard/forward; and fellow senior Ronnie Scarpa, a center. Erskine averaged 6.9 points per game on the year for H-K. Giambanis scored an average of 6.8 points per game, while O’Linn scored 4.7 points.
Coach Abbott said that the leadership of his seniors proved instrumental for the Cougars in terms of their success this season, as well as their overall turnaround as a program the past few years.
“I think it was our seniors and the senior leadership that these guys brought every day that made us so strong. There were such a coachable and dedicated group of seniors,” said Abbott. “They helped turn the program around, as we were 2-18 when they were freshmen. As the seniors were the strength of our team, I felt our three sophomores who played a lot of every game had great years.”
Sophomore guard Mason Gorham had a sensational season by averaging 16.4 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the field for H-K. Gorham also averaged 6.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on his way to earning All-Shoreline Conference First Team accolades.
H-K’s sophomore corps also included forward Callen Powers and point guard Tate Callender. After playing for the JV team last season, Powers and Callender stepped up in a major way on the varsity court this winter.
“Callen and Tate both played only JV last year and were asked to contribute immediately this year,” Abbott said. “And Mason, who was selected First Team All-Conference, led the team in scoring and rebounding. He had a tremendous season.”
H-K recorded regular-season victories versus North Branford (61-23), East Hampton (65-62), Hale-Ray (80-52) Coginchaug (61-57), Westbrook (60-43), and Old Saybrook (68-50) this year. The Cougars went on to claim a 78-28 victory against Coginchaug in the Shoreline Conference quarterfinals before taking a 54-46 loss to Cromwell in the semifinal round.
Coach Abbott felt that one of the biggest stepping stones for the Cougars actually came in a game that they lost. On March 18, H-K hosted Morgan and took a 61-54 defeat, but Abbott was proud to see his club give the undefeated and eventual conference champion Huskies a run for their money in that matchup. H-K actually had a seven-point lead with 1:30 left in the game before Morgan rallied for the win.
“It showed how far the team had come, being able to go head-to-head with the 11th-ranked team in the state and the best Shoreline team,” said Abbott. “It was a great high school basketball game.”
H-K’s junior class featured Adam Alonzo, Declan Christopher, and Jaydan Zaitoun. The other sophomores on the squad were Joe Giaccone, Tyler Perry, Benjamin DeCrosta, Dylan Coon, Kevin Harrison, and Jason Maziarz. H-K’s freshman class included Ryan Erskine, Ben Mercier, Bryce O’Linn, Cooper Savoy, Blake Kamoen, Luke Hedges, Luke Mauri, Alex Battistoni, Cole Bruno, Jake DePino, Andres Montes, and Jonah Keithan.
Even with the graduation of five seniors, Coach Abbott feels confident that the Cougars can have another solid season next year. Abbott said that H-K has “a great group of young players coming back” in 2022.
“It is not a complete reload, but more of a retool,” Abbott said. “I think the experience that the young guys got this season will help a lot next year. We have other players that we will need to step up and contribute next year, and we should be competitive with every team in the conference. I am excited about next year’s team and hope we can continue to improve.”
Coach Abbott also believes that competing through the COVID-19 pandemic made all of his players that much stronger and feel even more grateful to be playing basketball. Abbott is hoping that competition can return to normalcy next season.
“It certainly was a crazy year, but we are very fortunate to have gotten it in,” said Abbott. “It did get to be a little more normal toward the end when they allowed some spectators in, but we had guys in and out of quarantine all year, so it seemed to always be an uphill battle. I hope next year we are back to complete normal.”