Balanced Bunnell is SWC champion

Matt Nolting earned SWC Tournament MVP honors.

Okay. That was fun.

That being the 2013 SWC boys basketball championship game, won by Bunnell over Bethel 71-61 in Stratford.

My words likely come as cold comfort, but Bethel fans (and the hometown Bunnell crowd, too) deserve loads of credit for coming out in force Thursday night. The game might have been played in Stratford but there were just as many who made the drive from Bethel, as the Stratford Fire Marshall allowed Bunnell to squeeze just about as many people as possible into the gym.

“Our fans showed up,” Bethel coach Ray Turek said. “We love having them here. We helped neutralize their homecourt.”

When you have an equal amount of students for both sides it makes the game seem all the more special, not that this one needed any enhancements from the stands.

First things first, if I had a vote for the MVP I would’ve made it co-MVPs between Bunnell’s Matt Nolting and Bethel’s Daniel Garvin.

Daniel Garvin put up 28 and 21 Thursday vs. Bunnell.

You’d be hard pressed, in the first half at least, to find a more complete performance than what Garvin did. Shoot. Offensive rebound. Play defense.

The Bryant-bound senior was in a word: awesome.

28 points and 21 rebounds by Garvin doesn’t say enough about what he meant to Bethel Thursday night.

Even with Thursday’s loss, the Wildcats are going to be a tough — TOUGH — out in the Class M tournament. At 6-foot-6 with a feathery jumpshot and complete all-around game, Garvin is the kind of kid who can take his team on his back and carry them to the Mohegan Sun Arena in two weeks.

Bunnell — blessed with a favorable Class L draw — looks to be a major threat heading into the state tournament, too.

The Bulldogs have two genuine high school stars in Nolting and Issac Vann. Both average over 20 points. Nolting has “in the gym” shooting range, while Vann is the dynamic type player who’s lethal in transition as well as a tough halfcourt matchup.

In sophomore point guard Ryan Pittman Bunnell has a No. 3 option who’d be the No. 1 on many schools.

What sets Bunnell apart is depth. Tim White, Claude Joseph, Adam Samuel and Justin Townsend are all capable players who fill their roles, taking pressure off the top guys.

The difference down the stretch in the SWC final was probably Bunnell’s ability to wear down Garvin. The Bulldogs could throw Joseph or Samuel or double-team with White on Garvin, allowing Vann to catch his breath a little bit on defense. On the other end Garvin had his hands full with Vann and the rest of the Bulldogs’ front line.

“They’re physical with (Garvin),” Turek said. ” They were moving guys in and off him. That didn’t exactly benefit us. The hard thing for us is they rebound well and leak out. They have shooters all over the floor.”

In other words, Bunnell is a complete team.

Issac Vann and Bunnell celebrate their SWC title.

Assuming they can get past Torrington in the first round on Tuesday, there’s no reason Bunnell shouldn’t go far in the tournament.  This seems like a special group with the chemistry needed to make a deep run.

“We have a lot more work to do,” Vann said. “We have to come into practice and get ready for Tuesday.”

Nights like these when you get two very good teams together and a great crowd, when there’s an electricity in the air, make high school sports special.

Quick Thought on Central:

Freshly crowded FCIAC champion Central was the team I saw the most this winter. At the start of January the Hilltoppers didn’t look like a championship team, but slowly they morphed into a team to be reckoned with.

The change might have been in their regular-season four-point loss to St. Joseph right before the blizzard hit Bridgeport. Yes Central lost that game, but coach Barry McLeod said he’d never felt prouder of a team since they never quit despite being down close to 20 points early. It was a stark contrast to the first time I saw Central and it lost to Westhill, leaving McLeod scratching his head about the direction of his group.

For what it’s worth, back during preview time in December, Bassick coaches Bernie Lofton and Harrison Taylor both agreed Central would be the best team in the FCIAC.

It took some time, but the veterans were right.