Schools Sports

Simsbury Stuns Struggling Conard Boys Basketball

Riley Fox heads in for the dunk. Conard vs. Simsbury. Feb. 9, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Conard High School boys basketball lost to Simsbury at home in West Hartford Thursday night.

Conard players gather for the National Anthem before Thursday’s game. Conard vs. Simsbury. Feb. 9, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

By Paul Palmer

There are stretches in every schedule and games in those stretches that go a long way in determining how far  a team will go in a season. The Conard Red Wolves basketball team (9-7) may be at the point in this season right now after a determined Simsbury Trojans (8-9) squad sent Conard to its fourth straight loss Thursday night, 52-48.

The Red Wolves last won on Jan. 26 against 4-12 Avon on the road. “We are playing a Tier 1 schedule,” said Conard coach Jared Leghorn after the loss. “With Coach Stillman, you know they (Simsbury) are going to battle.”

Things looked good for Conard to get back on the winning track early on as Alex Momeka hit a 3 to open the scoring and then junior Riley Fox took over on offense, hitting a reverse lay in, a pair of 3s and another basket to give the hosts the 13-9 lead after one.

Ryan Bushnell of Conard square up with Simsbury’s Gianni Marchetti. Conard vs. Simsbury. Feb. 9, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

The Trojans opened the second quarter with a quick 5-0 run to go up 14-13 as Conard’s shooting went arctic cold until Fox teamed with Ryan Bushnell on an inbound pass and basket to jump ahead to a 15-14 lead. With 4:05 to go, Fox hit another 3 and it was a two-point lead.

As often as Fox (25 points) was scoring for Conard, Chris Kokines (21 points) was hitting frequently for the visitors. His basket tied things at 18 and then teammate Jacob Cohen hit a 3 to put Simsbury up 21-18 with 3 minutes to go in the half.

Simsbury was patient with the ball and hustling on defense. They also had a little bit of luck when Bushnell blocked a shot that went straight to Gianni Marchetti who banged in the basket.

Chris Kokines led Simsbury to the upset win over Riley Fox and Conard. Conard vs. Simsbury. Feb. 9, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Fox and Momeka each were only able to hit one end of their free throws. Kokines hit a tough lay in in traffic to make it 24-21 Simsbury, and that was how the first half would end. Fox led all scorers at the break with 17, Kokines had 9.

If they were not already aware of it, the first 45 seconds of the third quarter should have let Conard know that they were in a battle. Ryan Donohue opened with a 3 and Kokines scored after a Conard miss and it was now a six-point lead for the Trojans. Fox would hit a 3 to go to 20 points in the game and then both teams went a bit cold, missing several shots. Conard was particularly off from the 3-point zone in large stretches of the game.

Alex Momeka leads the break for Conard. Conard vs. Simsbury. Feb. 9, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

“We looked crisp at the start but then we got into some bad habits,” Leghorn said. Simsbury would push the lead to 8 with 3:41 to play in the third. Momeka would then find Jackson Morhardt (12 points) for a corner 3 to cut it to 5, but following misses by both teams, Cohen drained the 3-pointer from straight out at the top of the key.

The Red Wolves shifted into a press on defense and forced some turnovers, with Fox stripping the ball at center court and cruising in for the two-hand slam to make it 35-31 Simsbury. Shane Butler of Simsbury and Morhardt would exchange 3s and with the final  8 minutes to play it was 40-34 Trojans.

The shooting woes doomed Conard at the start of the final quarter. Fox missed a pair of 3s, and Conard missed its first four shots – all 3s. Simsbury was not faring any better and when Fox hit a 3, Conard was within 5 at 42-37. The Red Wolves missed two more shots, Kokines hit a driving, scoop shot and drew the fourth foul of the game on Fox. Kokines would miss the free throw but Simsbury had a 7-point lead.

Morhardt buried a pair of 3s and it was a 2-point game with 1:49 remaining. Thirty seconds later, it was Bryce Van Meter responding with a 3 for Simsbury. Conard missed its next two shots, and Simsbury was struggling from the line as the Red Wolves were fouling to stop the clock.

Conard’s Declan McCann puts up the driving shot.. Conard vs. Simsbury. Feb. 9, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Down 51-45 with 11 seconds to go, Declan McCann hit a big 3 and Conard was still alive, down by 3. On the next possession, Donohue was fouled and calmly stepped to the line and drained two foul shots to seal the win at 52-48.

“Right now, we are not where we need to be from the expectations we had at the start of the season,” Leghorn said after the loss. “They caused us some miscommunications on defense and then they buried their chances.”

Things are not going to get easier for the Red Wolves as they travel Saturday to 13-3 Holy Cross for a matchup of Division II teams. The Crusaders have won six of their last seven and are currently ranked second in the unofficial CIAC Boys Division II rankings.

“The only option is to come to practice tomorrow and get better,” Leghorn offered.

Conard’s Jaydon Schuler battles for the loose ball with a pair of Simsbury players. Conard vs. Simsbury. Feb. 9, 2023. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

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