Seeing Ansonia High blue apparently brings out the best in Derby High boys basketball team.
The visiting Chargers needed to finish the game on a 15-2 run to come-from-behind and beat an upset-minded Derby team, 64-54, at Vitello Gymnasium on Feb. 5.
Ansonia needed a similar late-game charge to beat its long-time Valley rival, 63-53, when the two teams met in Ansonia earlier this season.
“I’ve seen (Derby) play four times this year. Unfortunately, they’ve played their best against us,” Ansonia coach Todd Manuel. “It makes for an exciting game when these two teams play each other.”
“I’m a Derby guy. I played basketball and football,” said Derby coach Francisco Salazar. “In the olden days, ‘throw the records out’ when Derby and Ansonia play.”
Salazar’s team, trying to end a 14-game losing streak and spoil Ansonia’s late-season charge to qualify for the Class M state tournament, made the Chargers earn the victory in a game that never saw either team lead by more than six points until the last couple of minutes.
Trailing by six points, 48-42, to start the fourth quarter, the Red Raiders went on a 10-1 run to take a 52-49 lead with 5:23 left in the game that energized the small, but vocal, Derby crowd.
With momentum squarely on their side, the Red Raiders (1-15 overall, 1-8 Naugatuck Valley League Brass Division) went cold down the stretch, making just one more basket.
The Chargers (6-11, 4-5 Brass Division) seized the opportunity, rallying with a 15-2 run to close the game and earn the victory.
Vinny Constantino got the decisive run started for Ansonia with a steal and layup. Then, after Tyron Black forced another Red Raider turnover, Constantino cashed it in for another basket that gave Ansonia the lead for good, 53-52, at the four-minute mark.
Baskets by Hezi Duncan and Rayshawn Pender extended the lead to five points, 57-52.
Mike Kreiger momentarily gave Derby life with a lay-in to make it a one possession game, 57-54, with 2:10 left.
Five Ansonia free throws and a Kejuan Gordon layup over the final two minutes were enough to ice the 10-point Charger victory.
Manuel was glad to leave Derby with the hard-fought victory: “Over the 32 minutes, I thought we wore them down.”
Salazar agreed that his team may have run out of gas a little bit at the end. Foul trouble was also an issue for Derby, which lost center Ferris Korenic (seven points, 14 rebounds) to his fifth foul late in the game.
Derby’s inexperience in these types of games also was a factor, according to Salazar: “We have to learn how to win.”
In the early stages, Ansonia threatened to take control as Duncan scored five straight points to give the Chargers a 12-6 lead.
Derby answered with a 12-4 run, highlighted by six of Kreiger’s 15 points on the night, to take an 18-16 lead midway through the second quarter.
Neither team led by more than three points again until late in the third quarter, when Constantino (10 points, seven rebounds) made a pair of free throws to but Ansonia ahead 44-40.
Derby’s Dillon McMahon led all scorers with 18 points. Four Chargers scored in double figures, led by Black’s 16 points. Pender added 15 points and Gordon 10.
“I’m proud of the grit my guys showed,” said Manuel, whose team won despite missing two starters.
The Chargers need to win two of their final three games to qualify for states for a sixth straight season.
Ansonia has Wolcott (11-6), Woodland Regional (10-8) and St. Paul of Bristol (8-9) remaining on its schedule.
“It’d be great to get the two at home and play at St. Paul with house money,” Manuel said.
While Derby will not be playing in the state tournament this year, Salazar is hopeful that his team can end the season on a high note.
“We’re still going to fight to the end,” he said.