SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The No. 1 Springfield Central Golden Eagles passed another test. Just like Monday night’s season-opening victory over Agawam, Central struggled at times, but in the end was good enough to prevail. The Golden Eagles took down city rival Sci-Tech, 67-56, at home Friday night –- their 26th consecutive win over an in-state opponent.
Central (2-0) entered the half clinging to a 32-29 lead. The Golden Eagles had turned the ball over 10 times and even worse, shot a dismal 18-for-35 from the free throw line.
To start the second half, Central turned the tables on Sci-Tech (0-2). The Golden Eagles forced five Sci-Tech turnovers, to jump out to an 8-2 run. The Cybercats, who were plagued with foul trouble, sent two seniors –- Keith Caston and Marcel Brown -– back into the game with three fouls each. After two quick Cybercats buckets to cut the lead to six, Caston picked up his fourth.
“We always talk about the first four minutes,” said Central head coach Mike Labrie. “The first four minutes of the half are so crucial.”
Despite the foul trouble, Sci-Tech would carry momentum into the fourth quarter, when Angel Montez scored on a fast break layup to cut the Central lead to single-digits at 54-45. Central and Sci-Tech traded baskets to start the final quarter, but on back-to-back possessions Brown grabbed two Sci-Tech offensive rebounds for put backs, forcing Central to call a timeout with a 56-51 lead and 6:43 remaining.
“I was seeing that they were starting to get hot and we needed someone to step up,” said sophomore center Chris Baldwin. “We needed to step up the intensity.”
For the next five minutes, Sci-Tech didn’t score, while Baldwin led an 11-0 Central run with his play in the post, more specifically on the glass. The 6-foot-8 Baldwin ended the game with 18 points and 23 rebounds.
Sci-Tech was controlling the game early, beating Central to loose balls and on the boards. After the first quarter, the Cybercats led by one with a tough defense that didn’t allow Central to get in a rhythm offensively.
Then the fouls started to occur. Midway through the second quarter, Central continually got the ball inside, which gave the Golden Eagles opportunities to go to the line. Central trailed 17-13, but scored seven straight points from the free throw line. The Golden Eagles would go on a 10-1 run to take the lead, which they never gave back.
“It’s about getting to spots,” said Sci-Tech head coach Paul Scoville. “Our guys have to learn, it’s not the park. There are three guys out there, with stripe shirts, who will call fouls.”
Luckily for Sci-Tech, Central missed almost half its first half free throws, something Labrie attributed to not following through on their free throw attempts.
Kamari Robinson led Central with 22 points. Brown had 22 points and eight rebounds, while Caston added 12 points and eight boards for Sci-Tech.
Central’s third option: Central once again got great performances out of the frontline stars, Chris Baldwin and Kamari Robinson. It’s expected for those two to consistently have games like that this season, but Central hasn’t found a third option besides the two men in the middle.
“We’re going to get help from different areas,” said Labrie. “It’s not going to be the same guy every night.”
Monday night, Central was lifted with Josh Malone’s 15 points, including a trio of three-pointers. Tonight junior point guard, Ju’an Williams had 10 points, three assists, no turnovers and five steals. Elliott Johnson, who started Monday, came off the bench for seven points and added a spark defensively.
“We lost eight of our top nine guards, including our top three guards,” said Labrie. “I’m not making excuses, but it’s going to take time. I think it’s going to come from several different areas.”
More importantly, Central is beginning to get healthy. The Central football team missed the first week of tryouts due to the Super Bowl victory over Longmeadow. Friday night, Travis Cusson started, while Cody Williams came off the bench for seven points and T.J. Smith played well in spurts.
“They just came back from football,” said Robinson. “They just won the Super Bowl. Their minds aren’t exactly in basketball mode right now. They’re still hyped off that (football). Once they do, they’ll bring that toughness.”
Could Cybercats be trouble down the stretch? For the first 12 minutes, Sci-Tech looked like the better team. They didn’t let Central get anything easy offensively and we out hustling the Golden Eagles.
Then the fouls started to add up, which gave Central the lead going into halftime. And once Central got out to an 8-2 run to begin the second half, it was an uphill battle for the Cybercats.
“They wanted it more than us in the first half,” said Labrie.
Sci-Tech finished last season at 6-14. This year with the return of Keith Caston and Marcel Brown, providing both a presence in the paint and on the perimeter, the Cybercats have the foundation to be a solid team.
“We’re a tournament team,” said Scoville. “But we have to start playing like one, we’re not right now.
"We need to execute, get into sets, play defense, communicate. [There are] a lot of little things that this team has to do better at. They haven’t had much success over the last two years and I’m trying to break as many bad habits.”
Sci-Tech has a tough schedule with games against Northampton, West Springfield, and East Longmeadow all in the next month. Match that with a league schedule that includes another matchup with Central and two more against Springfield Cathedral.
Still, Sci-Tech has the potential on the roster and for portions of the game had talent on the floor. Now it’s a question of whether or not they can put it all together.
“It’s might take one quarter or one half to get the team going and when we start rolling, watch out,” said Scoville.