By Steev Riccardo; photos by Don Cote
Senior co-captain DJ Kirby-Thomas and junior Akeem Belnavis, both members of the Bartlett High School Football team, seemed to be out for revenge on Friday night for their Thanksgiving day loss to rival Southbridge Pioneers when they took the basketball court.
It may be a different sport, but it’s the same rivalry. The carryover from one sport to another between these schools is still quite evident, not only on the court but in the stands as well.
There was a raucous crowd on hand as the hometown Indians built a huge lead in the opening quarter and went on to upend the visiting Pioneers 92-79 in a key Southern Worcester County League match-up.
The tandem of Kirby-Thomas and Belnavis, along with leading scorer and co-captain Nick Kobel, all contributed heavily as the Indians rolled to a 21-point lead after one quarter. Belnavis and Kobel each had10 points, both hitting a pair of three pointers, and Thomas was a monster inside, adding 8 points.
The Indian dominance continued through the second quarter as they took a big 52-23 lead to the locker room.
“I thought we finally put it all together in the first half,” said Bartlett Head Coach Tony Paranto. “We ran the floor well, we shot the ball, obviously, unbelievably well and we got good shots. We controlled the boards, played defense, got out on their shooters, stopped penetration; it was almost a perfect first half.”
The Pioneers and head coach and former Bartlett hoop star Bob Fowler did not roll over and came out to play in the third quarter. They used a combination of long range shooting and strong rebounding to outscore the Indians in the third quarter 23-20, cutting the deficit to 16.
Paranto felt that they needed to play a full game to beat the Pioneers. “We told them at half time, the first half was great, but it’s a game of two halves and everything that we did well in the first half we didn’t do well in the second half.”
“They (the Pioneers) controlled the tempo, we couldn’t get in our press because we were in foul trouble; they also controlled the glass and got a lot of rebounds on missed free throws.”
It was those missed free throws that actually kept the Pioneers from making it a closer game and the coach agreed, “if they made some of those it was a ball game.”
The Indians did hold it together and made some big shots and hit clutch free throws when it counted. Kirby-Thomas, Kobel, and Matt Huberdault all made free throws in the last minute to hold off a furious attack by the Pioneers in the last four minutes.
Kobel led all Bartlett scorers with 26 points and Kirby-Thomas put together his second straight strong outing with 20 points, a pile of rebounds, and great defense.
“DJ played a terrific in the first half and I told him that. If he could put a full game together, he would be a great arsenal for us and it would complement Kobel out there because obviously he needs some help once in a while,” said Paranto.
The Indians also received strong games from Belnavis, who scored 12 points and played some strong defensive, as did Alex Givens-Perry, who despite being in foul trouble most of the game, scored 14 points and continued to be the team’s best rebounder.
The crowd had a quite a battle as well with chanting from both sides evident all night, keeping the excitement factor at a high level. “I think it carried over from football; that is what rivalry is all about. Obviously Southbridge is our big rival and Shepherd Hill is the other one,” said Paranto.
A big rivalry indeed it is and a healthy one as well for both the players and the fans. Act two takes place in Southbridge on Monday, February 13.
For more on the Bartlett-Southbridge game, check out the View from the Sidelines column and please contact
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