Bunnell Bulldogs land their Whale

The Bunnell High boys basketball team hail its fans after the Bulldogs won the SWC championship with a 71-61 victory on Thursday night.
(Photo by Bill Bloxsom)

Chasing history can be a thankless endeavor. You can climb as high as you can and never reach your desired target.
For the Bunnell High boys basketball team, winning the South-West Conference boys basketball team was its Mount Kilmanjaro, its Holy Grail.
“We just went 17-0 in this league, and its all those kids in there,” Bulldog head coach Pat Yerina said with a point of his head to his team’s locker room.
“They play hard, they practice hard and for thirty-two minutes they are relentless. There was no pressure, we were ready.”
Top-seeded Bunnell defeated second-seeded Bethel High, 71-61, before an overflow crowd of 1,200 bi-partisan fans in Stratford on Thursday night.
Matt Nolting was named tournament MVP, and Issac Vann and Ryan Pittman were all-tournament selectons.
“I feed off my teammates and if I have an open look I let it go,” said senior guard Nolting, who scored 25 points.
“I get confident. If I have an open look, coach tells me to let it go. I have the confidence to do it and I have the confidence in my teammates to get me the ball when I’m open.”
The Bulldogs (21-2) never trailed in winning its second SWC title, the first coming in 2009, but the Wildcats (20-3) threatened to turn Herman Melville’s hunt for the Whale in Moby Dick  into Santiago’s unfulfilled search for glory in Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man of the Sea.
The moment came after Bethel narrowed Bunnell’s 40-29 halftime lead to 45-41 on Daniel Garvin’s thunderous dunk with 1:14 remaining in the third period.
The Wildcats had scored six straight points and looked for more when another run-out opportunity turned into a pair of free-throw chances.

Tourney MVP Matt Nolting (10) and the Bunnell High Dawg Pound react as one after Issac Vann boosted the Bulldogs’ lead back to double digits in the fourth quarter of the SWC title game.

Both rimmed out, and Bunnell’s Claude Joseph was there to grab the rebound.
Issac Vann used a drop-step to get to the block and power in a layup.
Then, some great half-court defense by Bunnell forced Bethel to re-run its attack three times before the Bulldogs forced a turnover on the baseline.
Vann took possession just past midcourt, turned his defender sideways with a quick first dribble, and attacked the rim for a hoop and a foul.
The junior forward’s three-point play gave Bunnell a 50-41 lead with one quarter to play. Bethel never drew closer than five the rest of the way.
“We worked hard for this win, it was for this team and for our fans, the greatest in the state of Connecticut,” Vann said after his 18-point performance.
Bunnell bolted to an 8-2 lead on a pair of fast-break baskets by Nolting and two hoops from sophomore point guard Ryan Pittman.
“We always want to come out fast and get on a good run,” said Pittman, who scored 16 points to go with his seven assists.
“We want to make it hard for them to get back in it.”
For this, Yerina turned to seniors Tim White, Adam Samuel and Joseph.
White’s role is to make life difficult for whichever player he is assigned to guard.
“We don’t need him to score one point (White didn’t score). No one gets by him. We can put him on any player we play and he’ll keep him in front.”
Samuel and Joseph alternated turns defending Garvin, the Wildcats’s 6-6 forward.
“That was their job: Garvin,” Pat Yerina said. “It’s not often you say a ‘hey, you did a good job’ when a guy scores 28, but they were around him all game.
“Garvin is an all-everything guy, and we wanted to dog him start to finish.
“They bodied him on rebounds. He got his 28 and we wanted (to limit him to) 20. There was not a lot of putbacks and that was key.”
Yerina said, “They deserves this (title). Devon Thompson and Justin Townsend came off the bench with Joseph and did their jobs.
“We were the number one team and we played like it. It’s always a thirty-two minute game and that’s how we approached it.”

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