In any sport.
There I said it.
I never thought I would elevate anything above the annual Thanksgiving Day border feud between New Canaan and Darien, which has tremendous passion.
But in the 12 hours since St. Joseph’s majestic 87-85 overtime win against the Crusaders — those of you who attended Hillhouse-Fairfield Prep got burned: it might have been a battle between No. 1 and No. 2, but there is a big dropoff between No. 1 and everyone else — I’ve had a change of heart.
To have a truly good rivalry, you need to have two programs in a major sport with longstanding success, a common link and a passionate following. Both Trinity Catholic-St. Joseph and New Canaan-Darien qualify. Other than Darien’s win over New Canaan last November, I am pretty certain I have seen every game in both rivalries for the past 10 to 12 years, so I feel qualified to make an educated assessment, though I agree this is a tough call.
So why the change? Since 1991, New Canaan and Darien have played just seven games decided by seven or fewer points.
In contrast, five of the last seven regular games between Trinity Catholic and St. Joseph have been decided by a total of 11 points. (I’m writing this from home and our records going back further are in the office, but when I get in and look them up I guarantee you this trend will go back at least a decade or longer). Trinity broke former St. Joseph coach Vito Montelli’s heart with a season-opening win four years ago on a 50-foot shot at the buzzer by Jonathan Boykin and, more so, three years ago as the No. 8 seed in the FCIAC Tournament, when it rallied from 20 points down in the second half to beat the top-seeded Cadets.
St. Joseph has won the last three meetings between the teams, its longest streak in the series.
Some people are going to call my declaration knee-jerk after Tuesday’s game, which may have been the most impassioned in the series, and that includes 2001, surprisingly the only time the two teams have met in the FCIAC final.
But fans forget, these close contests have been going on almost from the time St. Joseph joined the league nearly two decades ago.
Trinity coach Mike Walsh brought up another good point: because basketball is played in a more confined area, emotions tend to get more heated. That was certainly the case, with a lot of trash-talking back and forth.
The New Canaan-Darien rivalry is as good as any in the state, in any sport. Thanksgiving Days are special. Few high school sporting events can attract 10,000 fans, as their FCIAC championship meeting did in 2008.
And football trumps any other sport by a wide margin.
Interestingly, the Trinity and St. Joseph boys basketball programs are arguably the two most controversial, because being regional schools they can draw players from outside their districts. In basketball, just one or two players can make a dramatic impact, as we have seen over the years.
In that sense, the two schools have much in common. But what binds them together most is the dramatic games that take place on an annual basis, like the chapters in a great book.
And in the end, that makes the difference in Trinity Catholic and St. Joseph currently being the best rivalry in the FCIAC.
A few extra thoughts from Tuesday’s game:
— St. Joseph’s Jake Pelletier, probably best known for his accomplishments on the football field, has played to rave reviews this season. He finished with 25 points and had the first 5 of the Cadets’ game-ending 7-0 run in overtime. “I think his intensity rubbed off on the rest of the team. He was a huge factor in the game,” Trinity coach Mike Walsh said on Wednesday morning.
At the Cadets’ Northeast Classic holiday tournament, I sat with venerable basketball evaluator Tom Konchalski, who was also impressed with Pelletier.
— Someone told me they thought the difference in the game was St. Joseph played with greater intensity. Not true. The difference between the teams is the Cadets are more demonstrative while the Crusaders are more laid back. It probably just appears that Schadrac Casimir always has a smile on his face, but he plays as hard as anyone. Just two teams with contrasting personalities that play equally hard.
— Great job of hustling by Quincy McKnight. His two steals at the end of regulation got the Cadets to overtime. It was the basketball version of a relentless pass rusher getting consecutive sacks.
— Jon Dzurenda stepped up big time for St. Joseph.
— Brandon Wheeler continues to impress. His 15 rebounds were as important as his 28 points for Trinity. (I will have a column on Wheeler in Friday’s Advocate).
— Is Casimir the most valuable player in the FCIAC this season? Kind of an obvious choice so far. Last night he scored 25 of his game-high 31 points in the final 18 1/2 minutes.
— Guaranteed: the first thing Walsh went over at the start of Wednesday’s practice was the importance of showing poise and maturity at the end of games.