BRISTOL - Itâ€™s been said that failure is the greatest teacher. For the Plainville boys basketball team, thereâ€™s been plenty of lessons.
A winless 2016-17 season followed by just one victory the following campaign provided head coach Jim DiNello and company a number of harsh opportunities to learn from mistakes. Now, three years since the Blue Devilsâ€™ painful stretch of defeat began, the team is finally reaping the rewards of those painful lessons.
Monday night provided a stage where the Blue Devils of old would have turned a potential victory into another dose of heartbreak.
With Plainville up six in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter at Bristol Eastern, the Blue Devils missed a pair of free throws that would have iced the game. The Lancers capitalized with a 3-pointer on the other end, then forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play. Plainvilleâ€™s seemingly comfortable lead had evaporated in seconds, but DiNello didnâ€™t see a team on the court that had been beaten into acceptance of the inevitable. He saw a group that had learned from years of tough situations, piecing together a way to capture a win.
â€śThey didnâ€™t hang their heads for a second,â€ť DiNello said of his group. â€śThey just kept getting after it. Theyâ€™re resilient. Theyâ€™re a great bunch and work their tails off. I give them a ton of credit.â€ť
Instead of dropping another close game, the Blue Devils forced a stop on the defensive end, and made their next four free throws to secure their second-straight win, marking the first time the program has logged consecutive victories since 2015. At a closer look, an encouraging trend can be noticed.
Plainvilleâ€™s four losses this season have come by a combined 16 points, but these last two wins have seen similar situations down the stretch, only with different outcomes.
Itâ€™s not always pretty, but the Blue Devils are learning how to win.
â€śAt the beginning of the season, we were in close games but lost them,â€ť said Plainville senior Sam Lestini, who drew two crucial charging calls in the fourth quarter of Monday nightâ€™s win to keep Plainville ahead. â€śWeâ€™re finally getting over that hump and starting to win. It feels great. We feel a lot more confident. Itâ€™s like weâ€™re a different team now in the fourth quarter, whether weâ€™re up or down.â€ť
Lestiniâ€™s words are backed up by Plainvilleâ€™s play in recent weeks. In the first win of the teamâ€™s new streak, the Blue Devils trailed by seven midway through the fourth quarter before taking off on a 13-2 run to secure a narrow four-point victory against Bristol Central. On Monday night, a 10-point lead turned into a tie game late in the fourth quarter, before Lestini forced two big turnovers to propel the Blue Devils to another close win.
DiNello credits his teamâ€™s newfound poise to being in the same spot before, only to come out on the losing end. For the Blue Devils, those early defeats are proving to have worth.
â€śWe learned a lot from those four losses,â€ť DiNello said. â€śWe kept telling ourselves that one of these nights we were going to play well enough and the score would end in our favor. That happened [Friday], and I think the kids believe that if they keep working hard and stay the course, things will work out.â€ť
For the past two games, things have been working out. The Blue Devils now have their heads poking over the .500 mark at 5-4 on the season. But DiNello wonâ€™t let those heads grow too big. As far as he is concerned, there is no streak, only more learning opportunities. Only now, the lessons come from victories.
â€śWe honestly think about one in a row,â€ť DiNello said. â€śI know it sounds clichĂ©, but we worry about today and just try to keep getting better.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860)-801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org