Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Sports

Thunderbirds Striving for Goals with New Head Coach

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Senior captain Jake Saldutti and the North Branford boys’ basketball squad are hitting the court with new Head Coach John Donahue this winter. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound

Senior captain Jake Saldutti and the North Branford boys’ basketball squad are hitting the court with new Head Coach John Donahue this winter. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound)

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Junior John Onofrio and the T-Birds earned their second win of the year when they claimed a 56-53 overtime victory against Portland last week. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound

Junior John Onofrio and the T-Birds earned their second win of the year when they claimed a 56-53 overtime victory against Portland last week. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound)

With the North Branford boys’ basketball team coming off of a one-win season, first-year Head Coach John Donohue wanted to help Thunderbirds go in a new direction this winter. North Branford has already hit its first goal of surpassing last year’s win total and is now setting its sights on qualifying for the playoffs.

“I was fortunate enough to get the job just at the end of the school year. I was able to hold a preseason meeting and do some conditioning with the kids,” Coach Donohue said. “When the season came, we hit the ground running to get our system in place. They’re all good kids, and they’re all working really hard. It has been a lot of fun so far.”

North Branford played a trio of away games by facing against Portland, East Haven, and Old Saybrook on the road last week. The T-Birds defeated Portland by a 56-53 score in overtime before taking losses to East Haven (51-30) and Old Saybrook (54-41) to move to 2-4 on the year.

North Branford started its week with a road game versus Portland on Jan. 10. The game ultimately went into overtime, where the Thunderbirds secured a 56-53 victory over the Highlanders.

Senior captain Jake Saldutti had 16 points and 10 rebounds for North Branford, while junior John Onofrio scored 11 points in the win. Fellow junior Ben Stegina came close to getting a triple-double by scoring 10 points to go with 11 rebounds and 9 assists on the night. Juniors Drew Girardi and Jack Meehan scored 7 and 6 points, respectively, for Coach Donohue’s squad.

“Portland was a very hard-fought game. The guys battled back,” said Donohue. “We were in a little hole at halftime, but we came back and pushed it into overtime. We were able to come away with a victory, which was fantastic.”

Two days later, the T-Birds were back on the road to take on East Haven and dropped a 51-30 decision to the Yellowjackets. Saldutti had 8 points for North Branford in the game. Meehan scored 7 points, while Onofrio had 5 points.

North Branford finished its week with a 54-41 road loss against Old Saybrook on Jan. 14. Meehan was the Thunderbirds’ leading scorer with 14 points, and Onofrio scored 9 points in the contest. Girardi had 6 points with senior captain Blake Pearson scoring 5 points for North Branford.

Coach Donohue said that East Haven proved a difficult opponent due to its toughness and athleticism. He added that Old Saybrook is a well-coached team that fought hard the whole game. Despite the two losses, Donohue said he that he was impressed with his team’s effort, regardless of the outcome.

At this point in the season, Coach Donohue feels that North Branford’s biggest strength is its defensive intensity. The Thunderbirds like to run an up-tempo style where they mix in different players to try and slow down their opponent.

As his team looks to improve its offense, Donohue said that North Branford’s defense can lead the T-Birds to victory on any given night.

“Our strength is our defensive intensity. We do a great job contesting shots, grabbing rebounds, and boxing out shooters,” Donohue said. “We’re coming along offensively. We’ve got some work to do just getting ourself in rhythm and being consistent. But as long as we can bring that defensive intensity every game, we can win it.”

North Branford is being led by three senior captains in Saldutti, Pearson, and Ryan Monde. Saldutti plays forward and center, while Pearson and Monde play both guard and forward. Coach Donohue said that each player brings something different to the court and that all three are serving as strong leaders.

“They all have their own personalities. Blake is a very vocal leader. Ryan and Jake are more of leaders by example,” said Donahue. “They all have their own strengths in leading. They all complement each other very well. Whether it’s on or off the court, they do a great job keeping the kids together. Even if things aren’t going our way, they do a great job of keeping a positive mentality.”

Jake Chopus, a guard, is also a senior on this year’s team. Donahue said that Chopus does a great job of leading by example and is ready for whatever role the team needs him to fill.

Coach Donohue has also been pleased with the efforts of a junior class that includes Stegina, Meehan, Onofrio, Girardi, Jaiden Sorrell, Dominick Langello, Nicolas DeSisto, Nicholas Robinson, and Jordan DeJesus. Donohue said that all of the juniors are coming into their own and have the T-Birds’ future looking bright.

At the beginning of the season, Coach Donohue and his players wrote down their season goals on the locker room whiteboard. The first goal was to surpass last year’s win total, and that was quickly accomplished. The next goal on the list is making the State Tournament. While he knows that it will take some work, Donohue believes that if the T-Birds keep up their intensity on defense, the postseason could be a real possibility.

“We have six more [wins] to go to hit that mark, so that’s the next goal we’ve got on our minds,” Donohue said. “We have to be consistent, bring the defensive intensity to every game, force our opponent to make mistakes, capitalize on those, minimize our mistakes, and put the ball in the basket.”

The North Branford boys’ basketball team’s roster features senior captains Ryan Monde, Blake Pearson and Jake Saldutti; senior Jake Chopus; juniors Drew Girardi, Jake Meehan, Jaiden Sorrell, Dominick Langello, John Onofrio, Nicolas DeSisto, Benjamin Stegina, Jordan DeJesus, and Nicholas Robinson; sophomores Peter Ramada, Braden Burns, Jake Johns, Lucas DeAntonio, CJ Cameron, Victor Castillo, and Jack O’Brien; and freshmen Kyle Stegina, Archie Yu, Matthew Scalia, Jason Cosgrove, Raul Cepeda, Michael Riggione, Jack Monde, Justin Chopus, Anthony Sullivan, Michael Trindade, and Aidan Fortier.


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