The Chieftains controlled both sides of the ball to shut down a strong Capital Prep team and earn a signature win halfway through the season.
By Marlon Pitter
Two months removed from football season, the Conard boys basketball team needed all of its gridiron experience to take down one of the area’s top squads.
Battling through a physical contest, the Chieftains defeated Capital Prep – slotted ninth in the Hartford Courant’s area rankings this week – 43-27 Tuesday night in West Hartford. Arsen Shtefan led Conard with a game-high 13 points, while Peter Simplicio and Connor Olechna added 12 each.
“At some point, I said, ‘This is a football game, boys. I don’t want you to go out there and tackle anybody, but you need to play with the mentality that this is a football game. You’re not getting any calls. There’s no touch fouls in this type of game,'” said Conard head coach Jared Leghorn. “Peter and Arsen and Chase [Fountain] – they all do play football – they responded. Connor is tough. George [Andrews] is tough as nails, and that group did a really nice job of finishing the game for us.”
Nearly doubling its win total from last season through 10 games, Simplicio said the team’s resurgence this year is largely mental.
“I think it’s the culture and our mindset,” said Simplicio. “Coming into every game, we know we can win every game [and] it shows. That’s a great team, and I tip my cap to them. They’re very good, very well-coached, and we just come into games thinking we can win ‘em.”
The Chieftains (7-3) started the game on a 7-0 run, getting to the basket for three layups and a free throw. Leading by five, Shtefan made a 3-pointer to give Conard a 14-6 advantage after one quarter.
The Trailblazers (11-1) capitalized on a slow start by the Chieftains in the second quarter to cut the margin to three, but Conard went on a 12-3 run to take a 27-15 lead into halftime.
Conard led 32-17 with 3:23 left in the third quarter, but Capital Prep battled back to make it 35-25 entering the fourth.
The Chieftains kept the Trailblazers at bay down the stretch with long possessions at one end of the floor and stifling defense at the other, allowing only two points in the final eight minutes.
Responding to a road loss at Lewis Mills on Thursday, Leghorn said the team had its “longest film session ever” getting ready for Capital Prep.
“We had a poor effort against Lewis Mills, and I was hoping it could be a little bit of a turning point for us and spin it into a positive,” he said. “[There were] a lot of things we need to do better, and we did some of them better tonight. Not all of them, but some of them for sure.”
On the heels of a signature win at the halfway point of the season, Leghorn said the team’s focus immediately turns to crosstown rival Hall, who the Chieftains will host Thursday at 3 p.m.
“It’s great,” said Leghorn, “but like I just told the guys in the locker room, we’re on to Hall. It’s nice to beat an unbeaten team like that at home, but we need to mentally move on because it’s just game 10. That doesn’t mean anything right now. Good win, but on to Hall.”
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