NEWINGTON - Ashanti Frazier and Marc Trancedi know the history. Theyâve seen some of the numbers.
That was the winless drought the Newingtonâs girls basketball team had suffered through in the state tournament prior to Tuesdayâs Class LL first-round victory over Shelton, a 54-50 overtime thriller.
Since 2010, when the No. 27-seed Indians upset No. 6 Bacon Academy in Class L first round, it had been a long slide of playoff failures, and the programâs list of postseason history features eye-popping blowouts and brutal near misses.
âWeâve talked about it,â Frazier said of the state tournament losing streak. âWeâve talked about last year getting blown out by Newtown and the year before that getting blown out by E.O. [Smith]. I told [my teammates] this is a big game for us and for this whole Newington program.â
Following the 2010 triumph, the Indians lost back-to-back first-rounders by five points each, one coming in overtime. Those were followed by losses of 16 and six points, respectively, in 2013 and 2014 before four consecutive defeats by 16 points or more.
What made the losing skid perhaps even more frustrating was Newingtonâs strong history of regular-season success.
The program has reached the state tournament in every season since 2003. Thatâs 17 consecutive postseason berths, 16 in Class LL, but just one Class L victory to show for it. And despite all those frustrating finishes, if Tuesday felt different for Frazier and company, well, thatâs because it was.
âWe walked in [the gym],â Frazier said, âand I said, âThis is a big game. Not only is it the state tournament, but we have a chance at winning, and itâs at our home gym. We have a home-court advantage. Letâs go into this game as hard as we can.â We didnât do that, but next game we will.
âI know in previous years Coach [Rick] Bangs - good coach, phenomenal man - every year he coached, weâd never won. He always stressed how big it is for us to come out [and win]. In previous years, weâve been the underdog, and now weâre the seven seed. Weâre somewhat on top, and weâre still striving to get to Mohegan [Sun Arena].â
Trancedi, the Indiansâ first-year coach and Newington graduate who played for the boys basketball team, guided the team to one of its best seasons in program history. The Indians earned a No. 7 seed and home game in the state tournament during a 20-win season that included a trip to the CCC Tournament championship game.
In their previous 16 tournament appearances, the Indians hosted just two playoff home games - 2004, a four-point loss as the 11th seed and 2007, an overtime loss as the 14 seed. In the other 14 games, Newington was ranked 16th or worse.
Thatâs why when Aby Flores converted a big layup in overtime, which gave the Indians a slightly more comfortable four-point lead at the 1:03 mark, it drew a strong emotional reaction from Trancedi on the sidelines.
When Floresâ shot went through the hoop and the Shelton defender was whistled for a foul, Trancedi slapped his hand hard off the floor in elation. Or maybe it was in relief.
âItâs been in the back of the coachesâ minds,â Trancedi said of the postseason skid. âI donât think the players thought much about it. I didnât want to put any pressure on them because weâre a different team than those other teams. Iâm glad we could break that [drought]. Itâs just survive and advance, and weâve got to get ready for Friday and our next opponent.â
With such pressure to end the long, disheartening streak, itâs hard to blame Trancedi for such a reaction. Thatâs especially after the Indians blew a 27-16 second-half lead that required a game-tying 3-point play from Frazier in the final moments of regulation to avoid an early exit.
â[The losing streak] mightâve crossed my mind once or twice, but as a coach youâve got to stay focused on the positives and what we can do, strategy-wise,â Trancedi said. âWe executed at the end to keep ourselves in the game, and then in overtime we had enough time to edge them out.â
The victory sets up a second straight postseason home game, nearly unheard of for this Newington program, for the Indians (21-4) against No. 10 Glastonbury (16-5) at 6 p.m. tonight.
âI saw [Glastonbury] play,â Trancedi said. âTheyâre a tough team. Theyâre very guard-oriented and they run some really good stuff. Very similar to E.O. Smith in that respect, I think. Itâs gonna be a tough matchup for us, but the good thing is weâre gonna have more of our depth back [tonight]. That hurt us a little bit [Tuesday], lack of depth. Itâs gonna be a good matchup.â
The depth he refers to is the expected return of starters Karissa Zocco and Alexie Armour, who missed the last three games - including the CCC title game loss to E.O. Smith - due to injuries.
Trancedi and the rest of the Indians are hopeful their return will be a big boost to the on-court product, as well as being an addition in morale and confidence. Because even though Newington survived without the two, sporting a 2-1 record over those past three contests, the victories havenât exactly been breathe-easy triumphs.
âIâm just happy we advanced. Itâs a little bit [of a weight lifted],â Trancedi said. âWhen we were coming down to the end, it was iffy. We were down three with not a lot of time left and Ashanti made a big play. We had two opportunities to finish it off. Iâm glad we finished it off in overtime, but weâve just got to play better. Weâve got to be better every day. Thatâs the message.â
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 orÂ firstname.lastname@example.org