Jimmy Econompoulos estimated he had 120 text messages to return on Wednesday night from family members, friends and well-wishers. He said he returned almost all of them.
When you beat an opponent for the first time in 13 years, people take notice, especially when that opponent is defending SCC champion Hillhouse. Yes, head coach Economopoulos has the Hand boys basketball team headed in the right direction.
Hand led Hillhouse by two at halftime. The Tigers ended up outrebounding the Academics by 12.
“A lot of teams can say they played Hillhouse close for a half, but no one cares unless you win the game,” Economopoulos said. And that win was the first for Hand over Hillhouse since Feb. 14, 2005.
Then in Thursday’s practice, Econompoulos brought up the Minnesota Vikings: how a miracle on the game’s final play helped the team score a touchdown to advance to the NFC Championship game, only to then get blown out by the Philadelphia Eagles.
“The Hillhouse win was an emotional high for us, but what good is it if you get your butt kicked the next game?” said Economopulos, a former standout at both Lyman Hall and Albertus Magnus College.
Hand didn’t win Friday but went to double overtime before falling to Amity 55-53.
“Our kids fought and battled. To hold (Tyler) Thomas to 19 points, you can’t ask for more than that,” Economopoulos said. “We had a couple really good looks in overtime to put us up three or four.”
The second-year coach noted the play of guards Tyler Boris (senior co-captain) and Jeremy Long (junior) against Amity, calling them both “warriors” because neither came out of the game after halftime. Boris and Long scored 19 and 13 points, respectively.
Economopoulous said three weeks ago he believed there were eight wins on the schedule. The Tigers need just two more to get to eight and qualify for postseason play.
Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton admitted it was the worst week the program has had under his direction after losses to both Career and Hand to fall to 7-5.
“Absolutely,” said Sutton, now in his eighth year with three state championships to his credit. “We started off the season great, more than anyone expected, then we get played by me, myself and I, We started getting away from the team concept and were more worried about personal statistics.”
Sutton said senior forward Mekhi Warren has been plagued by both knee and ankle injuries and for those reasons, not disciplinary, Warren missed the game against Hand and Monday against North Haven. Davon Warner did play, but only saw limited action against Hand due to an ongoing toe injury and finished with four points.
Sutton said Warner, a senior guard, wouldn’t play against North Haven. “Me forcing it (the guys to play) doesn’t do them justice. We need them (down the road),” Sutton said.
But it’s been the combination of injuries and selfish play, according to Sutton, that led to a losing January and the Academics out of the Register/GameTimeCT Top 10 poll for the first time since Feb. 3, 2014.
Regardless of its final regular-season record, Hillhouse, the winner of the Class LL state tournament the last two seasons, will get a shot at a three-peat in Division I.
“These guys need to regroup get back to maintaining the course,” Sutton said. “My seniors lost focus on what we do and who we are we are team. As coaches, we need to find a way to weather this storm. I seriously believe we will turn it back around and get it back on course.”
Mike Scanlon has one more high school game on his schedule to work this season: Feb. 9, Waterbury Career vs. Crosby. But he said he is going to not help officiate that game.
“I have five college games that week,” Scanlon said.
So assuming Friday night was it, when Scanlon was part of a three-man crew in Hamden’s 67-62 home win over Notre Dame-West Haven, it’s the end to 37 years as an IAABO Board 10 official.
“You want to go out on your own terms versus having to go when you can’t do it anymore,” Scanlon said. “I still feel I’d rather leave now than a year too late.”
Scanlon, a 58-year-old Wallingford resident, will continue to officiate college games for the remainder of this season before he moves to South Carolina. He retired from his full-time job at Anheuser Busch last July.
Scanlon, whose career has spanned four commissioners for Board 10 (Rudy Canelli, Babe Amendola, Tony Barbaro and Buddy Chernovetz, said he likely would have stepped away even if he was staying in Connecticut.
“I’ll miss the players, fellow officials and, believe it or not, the coaches,” Scanlon said. “Some people think officials and coaches always have adversarial relationships, but it was different for me. I coached for so long (softball at Lyman Hall and Amity), I understand what they go through. It’s not an easy job. I enjoyed it. I made a lot of friends over the years.”