DALTON — There are some basketball games, even in this year of the pandemic, where the score doesn’t really matter.
“It was a good feeling” just to play, said Lee’s Evan Heath.
The Wildcats made their 2021 debut on Ed Ladley Court Monday night, and although they lost to host Wahconah 62-47, the real victory for the players in black and orange was just getting out on the court.
“I was really concerned that in my senior year, we weren’t even going to get a chance to play,” Heath said. “It’s really nice to actually get out and play other people than just our own team. It was amazing.”
Heath had a game-high 21 points for the Wildcats, 15 of them in the first half. Zack Bondini had 14 points for Wahconah, and was one of three Warriors to score in double figures. Wahconah is now 7-4.
“I couldn’t even imagine that when I got here, it was like wow, I’m playing basketball,” said Cam Redstone. “It felt good to be back with everybody. We’re still missing a few [players], but it was good.”
The Wildcats played with a seven-person rotation, due to the fact that a couple of other varsity players had not cleared preseason medical hurdles, like the preseason concussion test. Head coach Eric Cardinal said while the roster will eventually expand, there’s no denying that just playing made it all worthwhile.
“Just giving these kids something to do and something to work for,” he said. “I was actually proud of the way we played in the first three quarters. We hung in tough and I think we just ran out of gas at the end.
“Seven players will do that to you.”
One thing the Wildcats did successfully was shake off a first-half haymaker by Wahconah.
The Wildcats led 2-0 and 4-3, but a 3-point basket by Bondini with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left in the quarter gave the home team a 7-4 lead it would not relinquish. While Wahconah kept the lead, Heath hit a pullup jumper in the lane, cutting the deficit to a point.
Wahconah had a 13-2 run to close out the first quarter and take a 20-8 lead. Wahconah led by as many as 14 points early in the second quarter. It was 24-10 when the Wildcats erupted.
Lee went on a 19-4 run of its own, and when Redstone drained a 3-ball from the left corner with 40 seconds to play in the quarter, the Wildcats led for the first time since early in the first quarter. They could not expand on the lead as Wahconah’s Nick Astore scored the final four points of the quarter, and it was 32-29 at the break.
“It showed they’d had some practices, and they’ve been together for a bit. Man, they played with great urgency,” Wahconah coach Dustin Belcher said. “I thought they have some good players over there. They hit some big shots and that kept them in it.”
It was not a get-out-and-run kind of night. Both teams played zone, and Belcher said it took his team a little while in the first quarter to get used to that.
“It was kind of like looking in the mirror a little bit,” the Wahconah coach said. “They did a nice job kind of neutralizing our ability to get to the rim. Eventually we hit a couple of shots [in the second half] and kind of broke it open a little bit. I thought we really needed to get out and run a little more. When we did, we were tough.
“We didn’t finish as much as we’d like to, so we have to get better at that.”
Lee didn’t look like a team that had been thrown into the deep end of the pool. Cardinal had mentioned that the players had been involved in a school intramural league during January.
“It’s a little bit different. We had a lot of travels tonight. We haven’t had actual refs, so the strict rules, we haven’t necessarily been going by,” Heath said. “This team has all sorts of chemistry going. We’ve been playing with each other since we were 8 years old. We know how to work with each other.”
The Wildcats stayed in contact with Wahconah for most of the third quarter, until Luke DiCicco’s 3-point shot with 1:30 left extended Wahconah’s lead from four points to six. Then Ben Noyes converted off a Lee turnover, giving Wahconah a 45-36 lead after three quarters.
Had Lee come out strong in the fourth, the outcome might have been different. Wahconah’s defense held Lee to three points over the first 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter, outscoring the visitors 9-3, and that decided the game.
Astore finished up with 12 points for Wahconah and Brody Calvert had 10. Astore also finished with a team-high eight rebounds. Calvert had three assists and four steals to go with his 10 points.
While Heath was the only Wildcat to score in double figures, Evan Trombley snared a game-high nine rebounds, while Tim Besaw had three assists and three steals.
The win was nice, but Belcher said what was nicer was seeing somebody different on the court. For most of the month, Wahconah, Hoosac Valley, Mount Everett, Monument Mountain and Mount Greylock had been busy knocking heads with each other.
”Absolutely. I’m looking forward to playing these other teams,” Belcher said. “We still have Monument one more time, Hoosac again which will be fun. Pittsfield and Taconic, hopefully at the end of the year, and Drury coming up.
”It’s good stuff.”
Trombley 2-2-6, Heath 9-0-21, Redstone 3-1-8, Smith 2-2-6, Besaw 1-2-4, Durken 0-2-2, Bombardier 0-0-0. Totals 17-9-47.
Melle 0-0-0, Calvert 4-2-10, Chapman 2-0-5, Noyes 1-2-4 Payson 0-0-0, Trager 3-1-8, Astore 5-2-12, Bondini 5-0-14, Pickard 2-1-6, Wildrick 0-0-0, DiCicco 1-0-3, Striebel 0-0-0. Totals 23-8-62.
Lee 8 21 7 11 — 47
Wahconah 20 12 13 17 — 62
3-point goals — Lee 4 (Heath 3, Redstone). Wahconah 8 (Bondini 4, DiCicco, Pickard, Trager, Chapman).