Boys basketball: Shelton seniors lead turnaround

Shelton High saw its best season in three decades end last week against eventual state runner-up Amistad-New Haven in the quarterfinals of the Division III tournament. 

Coming off a 3-17 campaign in 2017-18 in which they did not qualify for the Division II state tournament, not many pundits expected the Gaels to rebound this year with their deepest postseason run since 1990. 

The one group that did believe in the turnaround was Shelton’s senior class, led by co-captains Brian Berritto and Kevin Belden, Martin Dominguez and Jakai Barnes. 

Berritto, who scored his 1,000th career point this season, knew exactly where he envisioned the Gaels going this year. 

“He was so focused on us doing well,” Shelton head coach Brian Gardiner said. “When I met with him in our postseason meeting (last year) he said his goal was to get Mohegan Sun. You don’t hear too many kids coming off a 3-17 year saying next year we can get to Mohegan Sun and we were two games short.” 

Berritto put in his typical hard-nosed performance in what turned out to be his final scholastic game against Amistad, notching a team-high 20 points. 

Two years ago, as a sophomore, Berritto’s coast-to-coast buzzer-beating basket at Ridgefield High in the first round of the Class LL state tournament gave Shelton its first state victory since 2000-01. 

“That broke through for us,” Gardiner said. “We hadn’t won a state tournament game in a while. He made the big play then and kept making big plays.” 

Berritto’s graduation will leave a big void that the coaching staff will need to fill. 

“You don’t replace Brian Berritto,” Gardiner said. ”He’s one of the best players in the history of the school. He’s been a three-year starter and amazing for me for three years. He’s put us on his back a number of times.”  

Several key pieces do return for the Gaels, led by second-team All-Southern Connecticut Conference selection Peri Basimakopoulos. In addition to the rising senior, rising junior starters Brian Belade and Melvin Kolenovic return. 

With that nucleus back, Shelton will look to build a tradition of state tournament success established by the 2018-19 team. 

“I’m proud of my guys,” Gardiner said. “They played extremely hard and left it all on the floor.”