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Conard Basketball Facing Tough Start to Season, Falls to Northwest Catholic

Aidan Fox of Conard looks for help as Northwest players Liam Conklin (23) and Ryan Tolliver move in. Conard vs. Northwest Catholic boys basketball. Dec. 22, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Conard basketball is now 1-3 following a loss to crosstown West Hartford team Northwest Catholic.

Riley Fox takes on three defenders early in the game. Conard vs. Northwest Catholic boys basketball. Dec. 22, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

By Paul Palmer

If you viewed Friday’s showdown with Northwest Catholic as a test, the Conard boys basketball team would have gotten an “A” for their first quarter performance. Brothers Aidan and Riley Fox combined for 15 of the team’s 19 points, and the Red Wolves had a 5-point lead after 1.

But just when it looked like Conard had all the answers, the Lions changed the questions, and  finished the lesson with a 69-56 win. “We are a little inexperienced and a little hurt, but we are positive and know what the end goal is,” said Conard head coach Jared Leghorn, whose team is now 1-3. “We are learning from these moments.”

The early run by Conard was matched by Northwest and the score was 12-10 before Riley Fox hit a 3 – from the same spot on the court as his brother Aidan had hit from moments befor e– and it was a 5-point lead. The Lions took a time out and came back out with a 7-0 run to take the lead on Gianni Mirabello’s 3-pointer with 1:00 to go.

Max Tartaglia of Conard guards Northwest Catholic’s Gianni Mirabello. Conard vs. Northwest Catholic boys basketball. Dec. 22, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Conard’s cold shooting and Mirabello’s performance led to a 19-15 Northwest lead after 1. The cold shooting for Conard continued at the start of the second quarter and Mirabello and Anthony Thompson dropped 3s as Northwest built a 27-18 lead halfway into the second.

Conard got its offense back in gear and Aidan Scully nailed a long 3, Aidan Fox capped a wild series of plays that saw the Red Wolves rebound three of their own missed shots, and Fox’s lay in made it 27-23. They would pull to within two, but once again, their cold shooting was their undoing, as Northwest built a 31-25 halftime lead.

At the half, Mirabello lead all scores with 12, while both Fox brothers had 10 apiece. “At the end of that first half we had three defensive stops in a row on two occasions but didn’t score,” lamented Leghorn.

Shane Morris goes in for the shot for Conard. Conard vs. Northwest Catholic boys basketball. Dec. 22, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

It was a very physical affair – cleanly played, but physical. Conard lost senior Julius Goode to injury after he and a teammate collided going for a loose ball early in the third quarter. Later, Aidan Fox had to be taken out twice for cramping issues. Northwest didn’t fare much better as Mirabello took an errant forearm to the nose that led to him visiting the trainer’s table. Later in the fourth it was Sean Akey – who had been guarding Riley Fox all game – getting a cut above his eye that required attention.

If it were allowed, athletic trainer Soctt Applebaum would easily have been voted the game MVP. At one point he was tending to a player on the Conard bench when Akey was injured and had to switch off.

Athletic trainer Scott Applebaum would have won MVP honors with his work for both teams Friday night. Conard vs. Northwest Catholic boys basketball. Dec. 22, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

When Conard would gets its offense moving, Northwest seemed to always have the answer. Scully’s lay in brought Conard to within four at 31-27 just 1:20 into the third. Northwest would keep pace and take advantage of Conard turnovers to push that to 36-29 on Thompson’s 3-point play and then to 41-32 with just under four minutes to go on the third when Ryan Tolliver hit a 3 for the Lions. Riley Fox then hit a 3 and Aidan Fox hit a 3 from the opposite side of the court and Northwest took a timeout with a three-point lead with under a minute to play.

Once again, the Lions had the response and when Mirabello hit a driving layup with under five seconds to go, it was 49-41 Lions. After three, Mirabello had 14 points, Thompson 12, and Tolliver 10. Conard had a combined 32 points from the Fox brothers and just nine points from the rest of the club. “Our motto is to step up and Aidan Fox did that tonight, Leghorn said. “He played great but also made some sophomore mistakes, too. “

A pair of Conard turnovers turned into six Northwest points and a 13-point lead less than a minute into the final quarter. Each time Riley Fox got the ball, Northwest would double team and Conard could not move the ball quick enough to the open man to get a good scoring chance. Fox did go on a nine-point streak while Akey was out with his injury, but the steady play of Mirabello  kept the Lions comfortably in front until the final horn and the 69-56 final.

Thompson led Northwest with 18 points, Mirabello added 17, and Tolliver and Liam Conklin added 14 each. For Conard, Riley Fox tallied 24 points, Aidan Fox 17, and Scully chipped in 11.

Conard head coach Jared Leghorn sees his team’s rought start as a chance to learn valuable lessons for later in the season. Conard vs. Northwest Catholic boys basketball. Dec. 22, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

As for the 1-3 start, Leghorn said he’d rather be 4-0 but his team has been playing one of the toughest schedules in the state and he hopes the learning process pays off in the end. “A lot of these guys are figuring it out,” he said. “We will be OK,” he added, with a smile. “I just wish we didn’t have to figure it out against Farmington, Windsor, and Northwest so far.”

Friday night Conard was missing senior Jaydon Schuler – a reliable scorer and rebounder – who according to his coach will miss a few more games as he recovers from an arm injury.

The Red Wolves have the next three days off for the holiday break and will play their next game on Jan. 2 at Southington before hosting East Catholic on Jan. 5.

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