By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD — The warning sign came during warmups poor to Friday night’s game with Stamford, when Trinity Catholic behaved very unlike a 4-6 team, playing a contest of can-you-top-this in a dunking exhibition that occurred before the referees took the court and a technical foul could be assessed.
Is it possible that the Crusaders were riding a little too high with a three-game winning streak against modest competition?
Did Tyrell St. John’s game-winning 3-point buzzer-beater 24 hours earlier against Darien inflate not just confidence but egos?
We were just out there having fun,” St. John said. “When it was time for the game we focused up.”
Trinity coach Mike Walsh feels he has a good pulse on his team. He has carefree players who had been underachieving and thinking they were letting the school’s strong tradition in the sport down.
Tremaine Fraiser labeled this Trinity 2.0 following an impressive 66-52 win over city rival Stamford. It was the Crusaders’ first quality win of the year, one in which they led by as many as 23 points in the second half.
Suddenly, the team that won just one of its first seven games had elevated itself back into the FCIAC playoff race.
“This is like a new team,” said Fraiser, who finished with 24 points and played his best game of the season. “It was going to take us a little time to learn to play together. I feel like we are a top five team right now.”
The Crusaders were at least on this night. They played the kind of stifling defense that has been a trademark the past two decades. Fraiser stepped up into a starring role at both ends of the court, a twisting drive and a couple of dunks window dressing for what was the kind of effort Walsh said the Crusaders will need if they are indeed in the midst of a season-saving run.
“The whole key is Tremaine,” said Walsh. “If he plays well, the guys around him play well. He stepped up and showed he’s an All-FCIAC player.” St. John and Aaron Wheeler added 14 and 12 points, respectively, Justice Page played well defensively and the Crusaders got some quality minutes off the bench, helped by finding Neno, as in Neno Merritt, who made his debut after recovering from torn ligaments in his foot sustained during football season.
“It was a pretty good team effort,” Walsh said. “We’re starting to learn how to become a team. We are really young and hadn’t learned how to play. I thought the whole key was our defense. We really turned up our man-to-man defense.”
Stamford, down two starters serving a one-game suspension after a fight last week, still managed to beat Wilton by 20 points Thursday night. The Warriors had already defeated Trinity.
“It’s a whacky league,” Walsh said.
If Vegas set a line on the Black Knights being 7-4 after 11 games, admit it, everyone would have been betting the under.
Stamford is a much better team than it displayed on Friday. It has already surpassed by one game last year’s win total. Like their down-the-street rivals, the Black Knights are discovering how to play consistently.
Trinity has won two games by a combined three points and three by 13 or more.
“We are learning how to win close games,” St. John said. “Unlike the beginning of the season.”
The same sentiments were echoed by Fraiser.
“We just wanted to play hard,” Fraiser said. “Stamford High has been playing really well and we wanted to show you can’t forget Trinity. We are starting to find ourselves.”
The question: is it too late? The Crusaders have a bye, then have a tough two-game road trip starting next Friday at Danbury and Norwalk. They are 50-50 games that need to roll Trinity’s way.
Walsh referenced “the poet” in pronouncing that “the demise of Trinity Catholic has been greatly exaggerated.”
The words were Mark Twain’s, but it hardly mattered.
Walsh could have easily borrowed a different quote: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”