Last year Trumbull was considered a preseason sleeper, got off to a surprising start and finished with the second-best record in the regular season before losing in the semifinals of the FCIAC Tournament.
This year the Eagles were considered a preseason sleeper, are off to a surprising start, and….? The question mark is intentional: we have no idea where they are headed. But right now there are very close similarities to a year ago.
That was evident on Friday night, when JJ Pfohl’s buzzer-beater lifted Trumbull to a 52-50 win over Staples and an 8-1 record as it reaches the midpoint of the season tonight.
The Eagles were hit hard by graduation losses, and have been relying on the 1-2 punch of Pfohl, who has taken on a greater role, and Johnny McElroy. Many of the newcomers were part of a freshmen team that went 19-1 two years ago and a junior varsity team that last year was unbeaten.
“Each season chemistry-wise things change,” Trumbull coach Buddy Bray said. “This group is very close-knit together.”
The Eagles lack the star power of a year ago, as well as the depth, but the league is also not as strong. They have taken advantage by winning close games: the last three have been by three or fewer points.
Bray said that has a lot to do with his players’ work ethic.
“Come time for practice that’s the focus,” Bray said. “Who is the next opponent? I can’t control anything else except that day at practice, who we are playing and lets prepare correctly, and they’ve been giving me that. It has been a group, like, lets do more, Coach, we can go another half an hour. Lets shoot more free throws, lets get here early in the morning.”
No one expected Jack Moore to turn in a performance last season that earned him the Player of the Year award. Pfohl has made the step from point guard to go-to shooter. McElroy is coming off a football season in which he was named to the All-FCIAC team at quarterback.
Both Bray, who was the Coach of the Year, and Pfohl agree that there is a special bond now.
“They trust each other and each night somebody different is picking it up,” Bray said. “JJ has been the heart of our program right now. He’s our captain, he’s our leader. Johnny has really come along the last couple weeks once football was over and he got his legs back. He’s been playing very well. Now we’re asking JJ to do a lot more, as well as Johnny. And we are getting nice contributions from Timmond Williams. He’s only a sophomore, plays a lot of basketball and has really been working on his game.”
Added Pfohl, “I think we are playing very well together as a team. We have great chemistry and that has been important for us.”
The Eagles haven’t always won pretty; they trailed Staples at the half, 19-17, and Pfohl was scoreless. Only one team has scored more than 60 points against them.
“They work really hard on the defensive end,” Bray said. “They are buying in on the defensive end. If we can keep playing defense we can match up with some of these teams. We are going to have to get contributions on the offensive end every night.”
Trumbull is in a stretch of its schedule where it can go on a long winning streak before back to back names next month against Wilton and Fairfield Warde.
As he prepared to leave the Staples gym Friday night, Bray said, “It’s a road FCIAC win and lets keep pushing forward and see what we can do.”
No. 1 Fairfield Warde (8-0, 4-0) vs. No. 8 Ridgefield (5-4, 2-3). Who would have thought that Thursday’s Warde-Wilton game would be the most anticipated of the regular season? At least for now. Can the Tigers overcome the loss of Brenden McNamara?
No. 2 Wilton (8-0, 5-0) vs. No. 7 St. Joseph (4-4, 3-3). The Warriors might have been looking ahead to Warde after struggling against the Cadets yesterday, but a close game will do them good.
No. 3 Danbury (7-2, 4-1) vs. No. 6 Trinity Catholic (5-2, 3-2). It is hard to get a read on the Hatters until we see them at 100 percent. Marcus Fox was due to miss tonight’s game against Darien. The Crusaders should be presenting much greater matchup problems for opponents with their inside athleticism.
No. 4 Trumbull (8-1, 4-1) vs. No. 5 Darien (5-3, 4-1). The Eagles just keep on winning close games. The Blue Wave gained a quality win over Trinity last week and have a split with Trumbull on their resume.