Just one year ago, 7th/8th grade basketball coach Kevin Hand took his dominant, undefeated team into the playoffs and got eliminated in the semi-finals. That team featured eight 8th graders and four 7th graders.

Due to last season’s success, this year’s team was moved to a more competitive, all 8th grade, bracket. Unfortunately, while equally as talented, this year’s team was made up of eight smaller, but quicker, 7th grade boys and four 8th graders. The regular season was a struggle, as the boys were playing competition that was frankly just too big to beat. However, the team got better and tougher, and in the playoffs, with reseeding, the size differential leveled out and the talent and skill lead the 7th/8th grade boys’ team, sponsored by GOOD Morning Wilton, into the finals Saturday, March 5, against a gritty Redding/Easton squad.

Coach Hand introduced the team at center court and for the last time in their middle school careers, introduced the four senior 8th grade starters, including first-year player Ryan Kaufmann, five-year veterans Andrew Travers and Niko Kouvaris, and the team’s MVP Maden Herve to the floor.

The larger than normal crowd that came to watch the final game of the season was treated to a competitive, close and nail-biting contest where neither team was able to take a commanding lead at any point. The game plan going in was to feed the ball to the big man under the basket but Herve had only taken three shots at half time. The defense softened up in the second half as 3-point shooting specialist Sam Strazza found his groove and sunk four 3-pointers (15 pts) which opened up the paint area, and Herve (21 pts) began to take over the game.

Clinging to a two point lead, Strazza and point guard Ben Wiener hit key foul shots to keep the narrow lead and a final attempt at a 3-point shot fell short. In the end, Coach Hand was able to celebrate a hard-fought 50-47 victory at center court.

What was most special about this team was they never gave up, they never complained, they took their beatings but learned from them. And in the end, they were rewarded with trophies and for Davis Cote, Josh White, Wiener, John McMahon, Sean Sullivan, Jermaine Vincent, Strazza and EJ Fasano, they are able to return next year as 8th graders and try and repeat as champions. The four graduating 8th graders—Herve, Travers, Kouvaris and Kaufmann—will be heard from again when they graduate to Wilton High School‘s program.

Congratulations to Coach Hand and all the boys and a very special shout out to assistant coach Alex Balitsos who kept the team together and positive from the first game to the last. Thanks as well to team manager Bob Travers for keeping everything on track behind the scenes. Thank you from all the parents and players.