By James Integlia
Not many picked the Branford Boy’s basketball team to be as successful as they have been this year.
The Hornets, who have an 11 and 7 record this year, have two games left to play on the regular season schedule, February 18th at Guilford, and the 19th at Hamden.
“To date, I think we’ve overachieved.” said Jake Palluzzi, head coach of the Hornets. “Losing 7 quality seniors from last year, I think it’s been a good season so far.”
Although Branford has already qualified for the CIAC state tournament, a change in seeding rules may keep them from qualifying for the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament. Due to recent storms like Hurricane Sandy and Winter Storm Nemo, the Southern Connecticut Conference has changed the format for this year’s postseason tournament. In years past there have been as many as 15 teams in the SCC tournament. However, this year only 8 teams will play, and according to the SCC website, the teams will consist of the four division winners (Hillhouse, Amity, Fairfield Prep, Wilbur Cross) and four wild card teams who will be selected based on their record in conference games this year.
To qualify for the SCC tournament, Branford must win its final two regular season games against Guilford and Hamden, and Cheshire or Career need to lose at least one of their final two games. “It’s unusual because of the blizzard and all the inclement weather but it’s nothing we can control.” said Palluzzi, who is also one of the athletic director’s at Branford. “I think it’s the right thing to do still trying to have the tournament”.
The Hornets have performed well, including a win over 2012 state champion Career, despite suffering multiple personnel losses throughout the season, losing senior Charlie Fiskio and junior Vic Raffone to off-court issues. In addition, senior Uli Pino was lost for the season after injuring his knee playing soccer for Branford, and senior Curtis Sutherland was sidelined until January recovering from a broken leg sustained during football season. “Everyone on the team right now loves each other and respects each other. Losing guys was difficult in the middle of the season but this group of guys we have get along so well.” said senior captain Andy Klarman. “Getting Curtis back was great for him and us. He really gave us depth on the bench and he plays with so much heart”.
Although the Hornets had not been expected to do much this season, they do not see their postseason ending any time soon. “In states we are expecting nothing less than a “Run to the Sun”. We know we can do it.” said Klarman, a 2013 All-Oronoque player. “The players are going to challenge each other and work extremely hard to get as far as we can. We really need fan support at our games, which we have’t had a lot of. If we keep winning the fans will carry us”.
“It’s been a good season,” added Palluzzi. “But I always reflect on the season when it’s over”.
If Branford does qualify for the SCC tournament, they will play the opening round at home on Saturday February 23rd. The semifinals will be held on Monday the 26th at East Haven High School, with the SCC Championship to be held at the TD Bank Sports Center at Quinnipiac University on February 26th.