GLASTONBURY - The outcome was already decided. A 17-point lead as the clock ticked under the 30-second mark of the fourth quarter meant the Glastonbury boys basketball team would be advancing in the Division II state tournament.
But the game wasn’t over yet for John Cessario.
With 23.7 seconds left, the Southington head coach called a timeout and gave a message to his team.
Keep fighting. Never quit. It’s what the Blue Knights adopted as their identity over the last three months.
First, a 1-3 start to the season. Then, a frustrating six-game back-and-forth stretch, alternating wins and losses that led to a 4-6 record. There was an eight-game win streak followed that secured a state tournament berth as well as the time back on Feb. 18 when Southington trailed Northwest Catholic by 15 with three and a half minutes remaining in the game. The players clawed their way back before falling just short at 52-51.
“There's a common theme we have where teams have a tough time holding leads [against us],” Cessario said following the 60-45 loss. “I think this group, as well as recent groups, are always in the game. I hate to say it [because] you don't want to try and come back from a 20- or 30-point deficit all the time, but they're a prideful group. It's a measurement of who they are.”
On Wednesday night, trailing by 20 to start what would be the final quarter of their season, the Blue Knights once again showed some grit, battling back to pull within 11 points midway through the period before Glastonbury pulled away.
“I told them during one of the last timeouts, 'The scoreboard's not gonna measure who you are as an athlete or as a person,’” Cessario said. “You wanna keep going. You wanna keep fighting. That's why I called a timeout with 23 seconds to go. I wasn't trying to be that maniacal coach. I wanted them to understand that every second counts and they've gotta do everything they've gotta do to fight through.”
Cessario is hoping that mentality and the message will roll over into next season, one where Southington will have to find a way to replace four seniors - Ryan Gesnaldo, Adam Hunter, Jacob Flynn and all-conference guard Colin Burdette. He’s also hoping 2019-20 will be a repeat of 2018-19 in that respect, as this year’s players, notably Jared Kelly and Bill Wadalowski, matured and developed into go-to weapons.
And sometimes tough lessons have to be learned, whether it’s over the course of the season or over the course of 23 seconds.
“It goes well beyond putting the ball in the basket,” Cessario said. “I know I probably sound like a broken record when I say that, but 23 seconds out of life still has to be embraced like it's 23 minutes, 23 hours or 23 years. We've all had tragedies in our lives where 23 seconds could mean something you don't want to experience. Well, why not make those 23 seconds the best part of your season? And they fought to the very end, and that's something I respect greatly.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org