Pictured: Hale-Ray defender Matt Conroy (right) plays up on Valley’s Cade Ensinger in the second half of Monday’s Shoreline game in Moodus.
By Paul Augeri
MOODUS – Add Hale-Ray’s Corey Zduncyzk to the roster of Shoreline Conference basketball coaches who will vouch for Valley Regional’s defense.
The Warriors walked into the Noises’ gym and essentially terrorized their hosts for 32 minutes, disrupting whatever Hale-Ray tried to accomplish on the offensive end in a 52-37 victory that left the “Sound Pound” in a hush.
Although Hale-Ray shot the ball well over the course of its 4-1 start to the season, that wasn’t the case Monday night. The Noises, who fell behind 34-21 at halftime, managed only one bucket in the third quarter, a 3-pointer by Zak Cunningham.
Valley produced only 10 points of its own in the third, but the difference was enough to give it a 20-point advantage heading to the fourth. It was plenty cushion for the Warriors, who moved to 2-1 in league play and 3-3 overall.
“They’re probably the best defensive team in the conference,” Zduncyzk said. “They play very physical basketball. We knew coming in it was going to take a great effort (to win) and we had to match their physicality. Unfortunately, we did not do that tonight.”
Hale-Ray (4-2, 2-2 Shoreline) made 13 3-pointers in its previous game, a 75-62 win over Old Saybrook. Against Valley, the Noises converted just 5 in 27 attempts.
“Shots have to fall for us. They fell for us early in the season. Tonight was just not our night shooting,” Zduncyzk said. “Against this team, you have to make shots. They’re too good defensively. When you have an open shot, you’ve got to make it. They make every pass difficult and every shot difficult. You have to capitalize on any openings you get against those guys.”
In its three victories, Valley has held each opponent under 40 points. While he likes what his team is accomplishing on the defensive end, coach Kevin Woods is still waiting for the Warriors, a contender in this year’s conference championship race, to click at both ends of the floor on the same night.
“We haven’t come close to hitting our potential,” he said. “I know what we can do. It’s a process. If this is the best we’re going to be, it won’t be a long season. It’s always been kind of our motto at Valley, we care about what we look like in March, not so much in January. And it’s not that we don’t want to be great in January, it’s that we don’t want to settle for where we are right now.”
Senior guard Gavin Grabowski, who scored only two points in Saturday’s win over Coginchaug, had a terrific all-around game with 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Grabowski had the hottest hand for the Warriors, with senior point guard Cade Ensinger setting him up for three 3-pointers.
“Gavin had a great bounce-back night,” Valley coach Kevin Woods said. “We worked on his footwork, just his feel. One, two and the catch.”
Said Ensinger: “Gavin has been struggling lately, but we all know he can shoot really well and we saw that tonight.”
Meanwhile, the 6-foot Ensinger was as good on the defensive end (7 steals and 5 rebounds) as he was on offense (12 points and 5 assists). He held his man, Hale-Ray point guard Matt Conroy, to just one field goal.
“Cade might be best defender in the conference. He can ruin a game. A great defender,” Zduncyzk said.
John Tibbets added 7 points and 10 rebounds for the Warriors.
Cunningham led the Noises with 15 points.
Hale-Ray had an opportunity to get back into the game when Valley big man Chris Sparaco went to the bench after committing his third foul just 8 seconds into the second half.
Instead, it proved a great opportunity for 6-foot-2 Macklin Miezejeski to come off the bench and assert himself on the defensive end. Which he did inside against the 6-4 Cunningham.
“He’s has been scrappy all year, really, really good on the defensive end of the court,” Woods said. “It was tough with Chris in foul trouble, but at the same time we have all the confidence in the world going to Macklin. He had a great offseason and you can see it now. You didn’t hear much about him last year, but he deserves praise for how much work he put in and how he’s able to get his body in position to where he can be on the court in meaningful situations like this.”
Hale-Ray already has matched last season’s win total and is halfway toward qualifying for the state tournament for the first time since 2011.
“This group of guys has worked very hard to try to change the program,” Zduncyzk said. “I give them a lot of credit with trying to do something that hasn’t been done here in a long time. There is a lot of positive energy. They allow you to coach basketball. They’re focused and they have goals and aspirations for the season and they have put in the work. We’re trying to build something here.”
VALLEY REGIONAL (52)
Gavin Grabowski 5 0 13, Chris Sparaco 2 0 4, Cade Ensinger 4 1 12, John Tibbets 3 1 7, Dylan Sparaco 1 2 5, Jake Grow 2 3 7, Macklin Miezejewski 2 0 4, Brian Rankin 0 0 0, JT Dickson 0 0 0, Saagar Patel 0 0 0, Kyle Montecalvo 0 0 0, James Marsden 0 0 0. Totals: 19 7 52.
Zak Cunningham 5 4 15, Jacob Soucier 1 0 3, Matt Conroy 1 0 3, Antonio Dadario 3 1 8, Loudon Chupas 3 2 8, James Gagne 0 0 0. Totals: 13 7 37.
Score By Quarters
VR 14 20 10 8—52
HR 10 11 3 13—37
3-Pointers: VR—Grabowski 3, Ensinger 3, D. Sparaco 1; HR—Cunningham 1, Soucier 1, Conroy 1, Dadario 1.
Records: Valley 3-3 (2-1); Hale-Ray 4-2 (2-2).
- Valley home vs. East Hampton, Wednesday, 7pm
- Hale-Ray at H-K, Thursday, 7pm