When the final shot went up, the final whistle blew and the final buzzer sounded, the New Canaan High School students began to stream onto the court as their team’s win became official. The shaky start to the Rams’ season was put into the rearview mirror and replaced by total elation engulfing the NCHS gym.
On Friday, the New Canaan Boys Basketball team defeated their rival, Darien, 49-47. The victory was the Rams’ second win in FCIAC play and improved their overall record to 5-8. The win marks the Rams’ fifth straight victory in the boy’s basketball edition of the rivalry, extending their streak of dominance over the Blue Wave.
As in any New Canaan-Darien matchup, the game was an instant classic in front of a packed crowd that seemed to be on its feet the entire night.
“The crowd was electrifying,” senior captain Teddy Whittaker said. “Most of the time, we couldn’t hear each other speak. The atmosphere definitely helped to keep us fighting and propelled us to victory.”
The game pitted two historic FCIAC heavyweights against each other, yet this season has been unusual. Both teams came into the game struggling, New Canaan with a 4-8 record and Darien at 4-9. However, the early season struggles from both teams only increased the intensity and urgency with which the teams played.
Prior to tip-off, Rams Head Coach Danny Melzer emphasized the importance of the game and expected his team to come out hungry. Melzer listed the number one key to the game as dominating the physical battle. This readiness and tenacity was put on full display, as the Rams went on a 9-0 run to start the game.
Darien spent the rest of the first half chipping away at that lead, and New Canaan would head into halftime up 25-21. Sophomore Andrew Esposito led the charge in the first half via his offensive rebounding and finishing at the rim. Esposito finished as the team’s second-leading scorer with 12 points.
The story of the third quarter was freshman Blue Vertin. Before the game, Melzer had expected to see impactful minutes from Vertin due to his three-point shot-making ability. Melzer had expressed concern with his team’s ability to counteract Darien’s defensive strategy of packing the paint, saying that “someone [had] to step up and make some shots.”
On a night where the Rams went two for 23 from beyond the arc, Vertin gave his team a spark when he knocked down a triple in the third quarter to put the Rams up 32-29.
“I had my mind set on doing whatever I could to help the team win,” Vertin said. “The fact that we were able to beat Darien and I was able to make a three made it even better.”
They went back and forth throughout the second half until Whittaker delivered a crucial blow late in the fourth. The senior calmly stepped into and hit an elbow jumper to put his team up 47-42 with six seconds left on the shot clock and 55 seconds left in the game. Whittaker described the shot as a product of “pure adrenaline.”
“To see the ball go through the net and hear the resulting roar of the crowd was an amazing feeling,” Whittaker said.
Forty seconds later, Darien was forced to foul senior captain Griffin Brawmit—with seven seconds left and the Rams up three. Despite a night where the Rams’ leader had struggled shooting the ball and the fate of the game and possibly the home team’s season resting on his shoulders, Bramwit was able to knock down both free throws and clinch the game for New Canaan.
“I honestly was not thinking much,” Bramwit said. “We shoot free throws every day in practice, and I was just relying on muscle memory.”
The leadership and emerging young talent is why this Rams team cannot be counted out just yet. Take senior captain Fletcher Heron as an example: Despite cramping in both calves that hindered his movement in the second half, Heron was able to continue to play and finish as the team’s leading scorer with 16 points.
“The competitiveness and fight of our team kept me in the game and I never really thought about sitting,” Heron said. “Every day, we are pushing each other and competing to make each other better. We take every practice and game one day at a time, and I know we are and will continue to get even better.”