Cadets taking it game to game

The St. Joseph High boys basketball team has been working hard all season to keep in the playoff hunt.

On Jan. 24, coach Chris Watts’ Cadets took a step in that direction with a 79-66 victory over FCIAC rival Harding of Bridgeport in the Vito Montelli gym.

“We had many games that were right there,” Watts said of St. Joseph’s 2-6 start to the season. “We were one piece away, one step away, from winning those games except for our loss to St. Francis Prep.

“Every day the players came to practice and believed. There wasn’t going to be a quick fix. There are no guarantees. But with each piece we add, roles change and we can go deeper.”

St. Joseph ended a five-game slide with a 76-70 overtime win at Danbury High on Thursday, and was looking to keep the momentum switch going against the talented Presidents (7-3).

Erick Langston provided the biggest piece to the winning puzzle against Harding. The 6-2, 230-pound forward scored 20 points and had 19 rebounds.

A senior, he scored 13 of his points in the final quarter, when the Cadets extended their 50-49 lead.

“Coach told us this game was going to be a fight to the end,” Langston said. “Harding is very good and uses a three-guard set. We wanted to give them one shot at the rim and that’s all.”

Watts believes his team’s transformation began with a coaching decision.

“I attribute Erick’s (present) success to my failure as a coach early in the year,” he said. “I put him on the perimeter and put two other players down low.

“I was looking for something outside, and (by doing so) lost my best out-of-bounds guy.

“That’s why having a great (coaching) staff is so important. They suggested we put Erick back inside and put the ball in Jonnie’s (Dzurenda) hands.

“Erick’s rebounding and ability to get the ball to guys leaking out (in transition) makes us go.”

With the score 61-59 St. Joseph after a pair of free throws by Harding’s Reggie Stewart, who had 23 points, including five 3-pointers, Langston changed the game.

He leaned in to draw contact while scoring from the block, and after Arkel Ager won a scramble on his missed try at a three-point play, Langston squared up and took a pass from Ager for another bucket.

Off a Harding miss and a Langston rebound, he ran the floor in transition. As the trailer, he was in position for Dzurenda’s assist for another basket.

To close the stretch, Langston was on the receiving end of an outlet pass from Steve Hashemi. He quickly located Dzurenda for a layup to run Harding into a timeout, trailing 69-52 with 3:52 remaining in the game.

Ager, playing in his second game after having to sit after transferring in from Shaker Heights Academy in Ohio, led the Cadets’ scoring with 24 points. Dzurenda scored 19.

“Raekwon Reid (injury) should be back soon and that will let Omar (Telfer) settle in more at guard,” Watts said. “Joe Mangimelli (a transfer from Notre Dame) will also be cleared to play in a couple of days.

“It’s not too late for us to make the playoffs. Each game will be big for us.”