By Tris Wykes
Copyright Octopus Athletics 2021
LEBANON – The Lebanon High boys basketball team tackled visiting Kennett on Friday without scoring standouts and seniors guards Braeden Falzarano and Cole Fabry, out because of positive Covid-19 test results. Another senior backcourt member, C.J. Childs, played only a few minutes because of an ailing hip joint.
Enter the Bates Boys, riding to the Raiders’ rescue.
That would be junior guards Sam and Dawson Bates, identical, 6-foot-3 twins who played primarily for the program’s junior varsity the past two seasons. Against the Eagles, however, the blond bombers sank back-to-back 3-point baskets to lift their team to a 47-43 victory.
Swingman Jack Stone led Lebanon with 18 points, all but two during the second half, and there’s no doubt the senior did his team’s heavy lifting. With the Raiders trailing, 43-41, however, it was Dawson Bates who drained a trey from the right side and 36 seconds remaining.
The Raiders (3-1) pressured Kennett (1-2) into a turnover on its next possession and this time it was Sam Bates with the dagger, knocking down a 3-point bucket from the left corner that provided the NHIAA Division II contest’s final points. Lebanon senior forward Nyeoti Punni rose up for a ferocious block on the right side of the lane with less than a second remaining.
“Since middle school, I’ve know with both (twins) that if I can get them the ball for a wide-open shot, they’ll make it more often than they’ll miss it,” said sophomore point guard Nick Brill, who moved into a starting role Friday. “They definitely stepped up when we needed it.”
Lebanon coach Kieth Matte, also his school’s vice principal, estimated that 80 percent of the student body is vaccinated but said proof is not required. The school board voted before the winter season to require athletic coaches, players and fans to wear masks, but the unpopular edict is toothless and widely flaunted by those in active competition.
At one point Friday, six of the 10 players on the floor were wearing their masks on their chins. Unlike last season, referees no longer halt play if a competitor does this. Matte noted the Raiders wear masks on the bench and on the bus for road trips. However, it’s clear that Lebanon sports teams have generally taken a “come what may, come what might” approach to Covid.
Against Kennett, Matte started irregulars Brill, Sam Bates and Zach Whitcomb along with stalwarts Stone and Punni. The Raiders led, 15-8, after a quarter and 22-15 at halftime but fell into a 28-28 tie midway through the third quarter.
Matte tossed in juniors and deep reserves Chris Perriello and Gerard Thornton in an effort to rest some of his starters for a final push. The Eagles led, 36-33, however, when the final stanza began.
“We just went cold,” the coach said of his team’s outside shooting, which, with the lack of a clear post player, is the Raiders’ primary weapon. “We played three games that all went to the wire this week. People say we shoot too many threes, but you have to love what you have in high school. And we have shooters.”
Kennett has dynamite point guard Nick Houghton-LaClair, listed at 5-7, but who freely admits he’s “5-1, maybe 5-2 on a good day”. There were skeptical murmurs when the senior and second-year starter jogged out for the opening tipoff, but he led his team with 15 points and at times led Brill, an athletic rabbit in his own right, all over the court.
“The way he runs constantly is impressive,” said Brill, noting that he watched video of “NHL” on Thursday, but found his opponent even more impressive in person. “I like to be up close and personal on guys, but I couldn’t do it with this kid or I’d get burned. He’s got a really good handle and he can go either way.
“I figured out I had to be kind of passive and let him do all the work. I just tried to stay in front of him and not let him get behind me.”
Stone sank four 3-points shots, including two in the fourth quarter that kick-started Lebanon’s comeback. Dawson Bates had nine points and Sam Bates had six, as did Brill. Punni and Whitcomb each had four points.
Lebanon visits Sanborn (3-1) on Monday and doesn’t play again for a week, when it travels to face Kearsarge (2-0). By that time, the Raiders hope to be healthy, but who really knows? The school district’s daily emails announcing positive Covid tests have become a mind-numbing onslaught of late.
“You show up and play with whoever’s healthy,” Matte said. “You just don’t know from day to day.”
Notes: The Bates brothers are younger siblings of 2021 Lebanon High graduate and current Connecticut College student Calvin Bates, who played football, basketball and baseball for the Raiders and who attended Friday’s game… Also competing Friday night, but at the Carter Community Building’s outdoor soccer courts, was a team of Lebanon High boys players that includes girls standout Mary Rainey. The squad also features senior Krists Putans, a basketball reserve and Latvian exchange student who hustled over to participate after the hoops game concluded… Matte’s lone assistant at this point is Connor Rockwell, a practice manager for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s New London Hospital. K.J. Matte, the other assistant and Kieth’s son, is the Raiders girls basketball team’s interim head coach while regular boss Chris Boucher recovers from Covid. The girls team won its second consecutive game Friday, triumphing, 51-44, behind 21 points from Catherine Cole and 16 from Molly Smith.
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