Playing basketball during a pandemic can be and is a challenge. One never knows who will be on the floor on a given day, especially with a contagious variant (omicron) of COVID-19 surging across the country.
The Canton High boys basketball team was without two starters on Tuesday in the first round of the Litchfield Hills Holiday Classic at Wamogo in Litchfield against Lewis Mills.
“The biggest thing I told the team was that we get to play basketball today,” Canton High coach Craig Archambault said. “Just be grateful that you get a chance to play. No matter who is with you, just play.”
A year ago, the high school season didn’t start until February and teams played just 10 games against regional competition. There was no state tournament.
Canton trailed the entire game on Tuesday but two defensive plays in the final minute lifted the Warriors to a 37-35 win over Mills. Brandon Powell stole the ball near midcourt from a Mills player with about three seconds and drove to the basket, laying the ball in off the glass as the buzzer sounded.
The Warriors tied the game at 35-35 when Isaiah Reece drained a three-point shot with about a minute remaining.
Canton (2-2) will face host Wamogo Regional (3-1) in the tournament championship game on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in Litchfield. Lewis Mills (1-1) will face Suffield (1-3) in the consolation game at 5 p.m. Wamogo rolled over Suffield in the other semifinal game, 62-50.
The Warriors played good defense in the second half, limiting Mills to 10 points in the final two quarters. The Spartans scored just three points in the fourth quarter.
“The kids got stops. They dug in and they were exhausted,” Archambault said. “It was a good win. It was fun.”
Starting guard Luke Maher, who had a career-high 22 points in last week’s loss to Litchfield High, missed the game with an illness while Taylor Kim was out due to COVID protocols. Powell missed the first half due to a disciplinary issue.
Still, the Warriors found a way to succeed. Reece led Canton with 12 points while Matt Benedetti had a career-high 10 points and Powell added nine. Jon Schibi scored 18 to lead Lewis Mills.
It was Canton’s seventh straight win over Mills and the eighth win in the last nine games with the Spartans. Mills last beat Canton in 2014.
Canton 37, Lewis Mills 35
At Litchfield (Wamogo)
Lewis Mills (35) Jon Schibi 6-4-18, Connor McAtee 3-0-7, Logan Cowger 1-0-2, Jack Stanislaw 2-0-4, Jacob Hall 2-0-4. Totals 14-4
Canton (37) Khalil Thomas 2-0-4, Brandon Powell 4-1-9, Matt Benedetti 3-4-10, Isaiah Reece 5-0-12, Artie Hayes 0-2-2, Connor Nadeau 0-0-0. Totals 14-7
Lewis Mills (1-1) 14 11 7 3 — 35
Canton (2-2) 6 8 12 11 — 37
Three-point goals: Schibi (LM) 2, McAtee (LM), Reece (C) 2