MANCHESTER — Barring a big change in circumstances, the Manchester Central boys’ basketball team will be a Division I playoff team. What remains up in the air with two weeks to play in the regular season is where the Little Green are seeded.
Central can hope Wednesday’s 65-60 win over Trinity at McHugh Gymnasium will set the tone for a stretch run. The Queen City rivalry game offered a playoff atmosphere with Central (8-6) and Trinity (3-10) staying within a possession of each other much of the game until the Little Green broke away with a 13-5 start to the fourth quarter, giving them a 10-point lead with 3:06 to play.
“City games are so tough,” Central coach Sudi Lett said. “Our guys are learning how to win. It’s been a crazy process. We’re still limited in terms of our experience and it’s been draining at times, but we’re figuring it out and finding the energy.”
Central attacked Wednesday’s tilt with balance as five players hit double figures, which surprised even Lett. Jesus Milan and Sam Kodi each posted a team-high 14 points for Central, which also got 11 apiece from Royce Williams and Dede Niyang while Daniel Infante pitched in 10.
Milan scored six of his points in the third quarter, which Central began on an 8-0 run after a Luke Duffley 3-pointer gave Trinity a two-point lead at halftime.
Williams was the Little Green’s catalyst in their 20-point fourth quarter as he scored nine in the final frame, including 5-of-6 shooting from the free throw line.
“The kids are trying to play for you, but when I’m up storming the sidelines it can be kind of worrisome for them,” Lett said. “In the second half I tried sitting more to allow them to be comfortable and play without the worry of making mistakes or being subbed out. They seemed to respond.”
Rediscovering a finishing touch was part of why Central was able to pull away in the fourth, but Trinity contributed to its own demise. In addition to continued problems on the boards, the Pioneers succumbed to ice-cold shooting when they needed to continue matching Central as it had during parts of the first three quarters.
“They pressured us and we really didn’t handle it all that well,” Trinity coach Jim Migneault said. “They started making layups off it and then we couldn’t shoot when we did get through. Sometimes we just can’t put the ball in the basket and it’s been our Achilles heel all year.”
Foster Stacey’s game-high 24 points was a key to Trinity hanging on as long as it did. Athiei Bol also hit double digits for the Pioneers with 17 points.
Following suit with Lett, Migneault admitted that Trinity is trying to learn how to win after losing its fair share of games in recent seasons. The Pioneers have lost eight straight and likely need to win their final five games to assure that they’ll be sneaking into the playoffs.
His team’s back is against the wall, but Migneault doesn’t see why the Pioneers can’t find a way to right the ship
“For a 3-10 team, we just keep playing and I’m happy with that,” Migneault said. “We’re trying to break through that little barrier. We’re getting close, but it’s getting late. We have to finish out strong and hope that it’ll be enough to be OK.”