Boys basketball notebook: Law has turned its fortunes around

When Jamie Anderson took over coaching at his alma mater last May, he promised a new attitude at Law among other things.

“We will come in with a new attitude, a little more upbeat than where it’s been,” Anderson said to the Register at the time of his hire. “We have a pretty good nucleus back. Hopefully, we will put a good product out there.”

The Lawmen have helped deliver on Anderson’s promises. They beat Foran on Feb. 12 for their eighth victory, qualifying them for the CIAC Division IV state tournament. It’s the first time Law made the postseason since 2010.

“This game for our guys was a wake-up call. We put forth a maximum effort and followed the game plan to a T,” Anderson said after the Foran game. “We’ll be happy, but they have some more wins in them.”

Two nights later, Law went on the road and got win No. 9 at North Haven. The team has one regular-season game remaining tonight against Platt Tech, with a chance to get to .500. The last two years, the program won just four games.

“They were 4-56 going into this year,” Anderson said. “I push these guys and I’m in their face. I asked them (the seniors) to be leaders on their way out and they have done great job doing it.”

Law did return a nucleus of seven seniors, led by captains Conor Creane and Zane Birks. Anderson specifically noted the play of Creane and fellow senior Dean Pettway in recent weeks.

“The team gave up 76 points per game last year. Our goal was to hold teams under 60 and we are probably close to that. They had to commit on defense,” Anderson said. “We had to change the entire culture. It’s not always just the coach, players have a big part. You can’t go out and play for them.”

Law missed its first chance at qualifying for postseason play on Feb. 9 against Branford. Anderson had suspended both Pettway and senior Sam Nassar for that game and Nassar for the Foran game. Both played against North Haven.

All Anderson would say on the subject is both players “weren’t available.”

Law also qualified for the SCC tournament, drawing the No. 13 seed. The Lawmen will face the defending champion, Hillhouse, Thursday in New Haven at 6:30 p.m.

Like Law, Derby didn’t succeed in its first opportunity to qualify for postseason play. In fact, it took four tries.

After three straight wins to get to seven wins, the Red Raiders suffered three consecutive losses, two of them to teams they had beaten earlier, Ansonia and Bristol Eastern. But finally on Feb. 12, Derby beat Seymour to extend beyond the regular season for the first time since 2007.

“We never talked about it. We talk about staying in the moment, trusting the process and not getting too far ahead,” Derby coach Eric O’Toole said. “It was a somber ride back (on the bus from Bristol Eastern).”

The Red Raiders had to come from behind in the second half to beat Seymour. The team may not have talked about the significance of win No. 8, but others in the school were aware of it.

“Teachers were coming up to them about needing one more win,” said O’Toole, himself a health and physical education teacher at the school. “We waited until we got into the team room and celebrated. We even cut the nets down on one hoop. Some of our fans and some Derby community members stayed around (to watch).”

Derby went 1-19 in O’Toole’s first season a year ago, but the former player at Sacred Heart saw a few bright spots that made him think a turnaround like this was possible.

“Last year, one of our best games, we played St. Paul and lost in overtime,” O’Toole said. “We had one win. Guys were disappointed, which was a good sign. If they were happy just staying with them, it would’ve been upsetting, but they were mad they didn’t win.”

O’Toole said his two captains, Isaiah Walker and Jahwan Cody, are “two of the best players in (the Naugatuck Valley League’s) Copper Division. O’Toole also noted the play of Danbury transfer Shymar Robinson, along with contributions from the underclassmen.

Derby has road games against Woodland and Waterbury Career to try and get a shot at a first-round home game in the Division V state tournament.

This the earliest the SCC has ever been able to determine its tournament seedings. A number of teams playing three games per week helped determine that.

The top two seeds, Wilbur Cross and Guilford, received byes into Saturday’s quarterfinal round at Branford. Hamden is the third seed while defending champion Hillhouse is No. 4.

The semifinals and final will be held Feb. 26 and 28, respectively, at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.

East Hampton has locked up the top seed in the Shoreline Conference. The rest of the teams for the eight-team field are set: Cromwell (the No. 2 seed), Old Lyme, North Branford, Valley Regional, Old Saybrook, Creed and Coginchaug, the No. 8 seed.

The Shoreline tournament begins Saturday, the first two rounds at the higher seed. The final is March 2, currently scheduled to be at Wilbur Cross.

Notre Dame-Fairfield is the top seed again when the South-West Conference tournament begins Friday at the site of the higher seed. Immaculate will be the No. 2 seed with a win at Barlow tonight and Kolbe Cathedral will be the No. 3 seed with a win tonight against New Fairfield.

Brookfield, Pomperaug, Bunnell and Stratford have also locked up spots. There is a three-way tie for eighth place. Newtown controls its own destiny with a win today. Barlow and New Milford also have a shot if Newtown loses.

Three-time reigning champion Sacred Heart will face Seymour in one NVL tournament quarterfinal on Saturday. The other teams in the eight-team field are Holy Cross, Crosby, Waterbury Career, St. Paul, Torrington and Naugatuck. The remainder of the seedings will be determined this week.

Hamden Hall has earned the top seed in the Fairchester League tournament and gained a bye into the semifinals Thursday. Defending champion St. Luke’s is the No. 2 seed. The final is Saturday at the highest remaining seed.