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A memorable finale for Farmington on their home floor

Players from the Farmington High boys basketball team rush toward the grandstand with the Taft Cup to celebrate with their classmates after the River Hawks whipped Avon, 76-43 on Monday night.

FARMINGTON, February 19, 2024 – It was a night for memories at the Farmington High gymnasium when the River Hawks hosted the Avon High boys basketball team in the final regular season contest for both Central Connecticut Conference squads.

For the River Hawks and their fans, it was one last night to loudly cheer on their team in the gym that has been their home for 44 years. A new Farmington High School is being built on campus to accommodate a growing population in town and at the school.

This gym, where four decades of students, parents and members of the community have come together to watch Farmington compete in basketball and volleyball, is scheduled to be torn down.

Farmington (14-6) will likely get to play a CIAC Division II state tournament game in the gym but this was the final regular season home game in the facility that opened in December 1979 as part of a $5.6 million renovation of the high school that included construction of the school auditorium.

There have been some terrific games in the Avon and Farmington rivalry on the hardwood. Farmington prevailed in a triple overtime affair in 2013 and squeaked out a one-point victory in 2022.

Avon’s Joesph Vitkauskas (12) finds his path to the basket blocked by Farmington’s Angelo Maccarone (33) and Nick Bergin (3) in Monday night’s CCC game in Farmington.

This game wasn’t a contest. The River Hawks dominated from the start and sank 15 three-point shots in a 76-43 victory. Nick Bergin, who made seven 3-point shots, had a game-high 24 points while D.J. Hawkins had 18 points and a pair of three-point shots.

Farmington had an early 8-6 lead before racing away on a 34-3 run that included seven shots from three-point range. The River Hawks led 52-13 at halftime.

Avon, which finished its season at 4-16, has lost seven in a row and 11 of their last 12. Senior Luke Coppen led the Falcons with 13 points while Joseph Vitkauskas added 10. Harrison Srb sank three-point shots for nine points.

At the conclusion of the game, the River Hawks cut down the nets.

“I’ve coached here for 25 years,” Farmington High coach Duane Witter said. “It’s coming to an end. It was emotional for me. Senior Night is always emotional. Avon vs. Farmington is always emotional.”

Farmington HIgh basketball coach Duane Witter holds the net after the River Hawks cut down the nets after Monday’s win over Avon, the final regular season game in the gym.

Farmington regained the Taft Cup for another year thanks to the victory. The Taft Cup goes to the winning school and remains with that respective school until they lose. The River Hawks have won six in a row against the Falcons, dating back to 2021.

Witter, who led Farmington to a Division III state championship in 2019, was asked about memorable games in this gym as players, parents and fans spent time taking plenty of photos.

“Certainly, the Avon Farmington rivalry is the first thing that pops to mind,” he said. “It has been a terrific rivalry, a lot of fun. I am glad we got bragging rights for another year.

We’ve played really tough in that gym,” he said. “Over the years, it has been a tremendous home court advantage. The student body, we call them six because they give us an advantage. Instead of playing 5-on-5, we are playing 6-on-5.

“We’ve played some epic state tournament games in this gym,” he said. A year ago, the River Hawks fell to Conard, 72-68 in double overtime in the state tournament opener. But that wasn’t a game that Witter was thinking about.

His thoughts drifted back to 2012. Ben Pollack, a 6-foot-7 senior, was having a dominant season but he broke his leg just before the start of the state tournament.

But Farmington won three straight games on their home floor to advance to the Class L semifinals before losing to No. 1 seed Northwest Catholic.

“Some how this team found a way to win in this gym on Monday and win another game on Wednesday all without their best player,” Witter said. “We played Branford on Friday. That was three games in five days and our kids found a way to beat a really good Branford team.”

Farmington beat Lyman Hall, 54-43 and North Haven, 56-36 before beating Branford, 45-39.

In 2022, Farmington beat No. 7 East Catholic, 85-76, in double overtime. Two days later, they outlasted Avon, 43-42, for the Taft Cup.

There was a game against New Britain on another Senior Night for Farmington when the River Hawks rallied for the victory. “We found a way to collectively play great defense and make some plays late and we were able to knock them off,” he said.

There were more memories on his phone. “I don’t want to forget this stuff,” he said.

Witter and River Hawks hope to make some more memories in the Central Connecticut Conference tournament that begins Thursday and the CIAC Division II tournament.

Farmington’s defense forced numerous turnovers by Avon and the River Hawk shooters were hot on this chilly February evening.

“Everybody that makes the tournament is a good team, especially in Division II so we know there will be challenges,” Witter said. “What I appreciate is that we have won five games in a row. That was our best basketball of the season. It is the right time of the year to be playing well going into the tournament.”

Farmington 76, Avon 43
At Farmington
Avon (43)
Luke Coppen 5-2-13, Harrison Srb 3-0-9, Tyler Assaro-Gracy 1-1-3, Joseph Vitkauskas 4-2-10, Samuel Muni 1-1-3, Steven Westrick 1-0-2, Andrew Andrerson 1-0-3, Jude Turner 0-0-0. Totals 16-6
Farmington (76) D.J. Hawkins 3-10-18, Sam Olivastro 0-0-0, Nick Bergin 8-1-24, Jakkai Veal 2-1-6, Caleb Smith 3-2-9, Ty Nogiec 0-0-0, Hugh Murphy 2-0-5, Angelo Maccarone 4-3-14, Tyler Thompson 0-0-0, Nimit Arora 0-0-0, Harry Hawkins 0-0-0, Chase Clay 0-0-0. Totals 22-17
Avon (4-16)                  8    5  12  18  — 43
Farmington (14-6)      20  32  15    9  — 76
Three-point goals: Hawkins (F) 2, Bergin (F) 7, Veal (F), Smith (F), Maccarone (F) 3,Coppen (A), Srb (A) 3, Anderson (A)

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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