As a boys basketball program, Shelton High is pretty battle-tested considering what transpired in two state playoff games a year ago.
Last winter, the Gaels defeated FCIAC champion Ridgefield on a buzzer-beater in the first round of the Class LL state tournament, and fell to eventual champion Hillhouse in the second round.
But gone from last year’s 14-9 squad, which earned the eighth-seed in the SCC tourney and fell to No. 9 Cheshire in the first round, are four starters, and five of the top six players.
“Most importantly, we graduated Jeff Stockmal, who averaged 22.2 points per game and 7 rebounds per game,” coach Brian Gardiner said. “He was a first team All-SCC selection and was a third-team All-State selection. He scored 1,316 career points, good for third all-time in school history. He is currently playing for Roger Williams,”
In other words, there is a lot for the Gaels to overcome this winter, but expectations remain high.
“Our goals are always the same: Win the Oronoque Division, get a home game in the postseason, win in the postseason,” Gardiner said.
What will it take for the Gaels to meet these objectives?
“A relentless work ethic every day. We have to outwork and out hustle teams because we don’t have much size. Rebounding will be a big key for us. We are inexperienced, but we have talent. The team just has to gel and work hard to improve each day,” Gardiner said.
This year’s captains, all seniors, are 6-foot-2 forward Will Ciccone, 6-0 guard Kyle Davis and 6-2 forward Matt Hunyadi, the latter of whom made 20 three-pointers last year.
Junior Brian Berritto, a 6-1 guard who averaged 13.2 points per game last season, is the lone returning starter.
“We have a fantastic player to build around in Brian,” Gardiner said. “He will be the leader of our offense. Brian led the team with 32 three-pointers and he shot 70 percent from the foul line.”
Other key varsity players are sophomore Peri Basimakopoulos, a 6-0 guard, junior Kevin Belden, a 6-2 forward and freshman Brian Belade, a 5-10 guard. Also in the varsity mix is sophomore Anthony Karaffa, a 6-1 guard.
It will be a tough battle for Shelton in the SCC.
“We probably have three of the top 20 teams in the state in our division: Wilbur Cross, Notre Dame West Haven and Amity,” Gardiner said. “We also play old rivals Cheshire and Sheehan.”
Work ethic, hustle, scoring, ability to run the floor are strengths. Getting to the ball off missed shots will be important.
“Rebounding is going to be so important,” Gardiner said. “We have to find a way to win the rebounding battle each game regardless of how big the team we are playing is. I love our work ethic, our intensity, our desire, our will to win.
“These guys compete very hard every time they are on the floor. Our seniors have stepped up into leadership roles. Our mentality is that we are going to outwork teams. How these guys gel and execute on both ends of the floor will be a major factor in our success.”
Shelton will visit Masuk High on Saturday at 7 p.m.