FARMINGTON – The atmosphere was charged with the crackle of postseason electricity.
The Tribe, Farmington High’s student rooting section that represents well across the school’s gamut of sports, filled an entire quarter of the grandstands and sizzled with spirit. Diagonally across from them behind their team’s bench, the Avon rooters were as numerous as visiting groups get.
The scene elicits the sensation of the great college rivalries intensified by propinquity, like clashes in the Tobacco Road triangle between Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State.
“You could feel it,” Farmington coach Duane Witter said. “[The players] were feeding off the noise.
“The Tribe was terrific. They brought the noise and it fueled us. We had six guys play a lot of minutes in an intense environment and I think it helped them.”
For the record, Farmington retained the Taft Cup, emblematic of series superiority, with a 43-26 victory. The Indians have won nine straight and 12 of the last 13 border battles. It’s not going to stop Avon from going out and believing next year in a rivalry that has wavered between one and two games a season due to scheduling challenges borne by league commitments.
“It’s great,” Avon coach Chris Vozzolo said. “Both communities come out and support our programs. It’s a fun rivalry. Everyone enjoys a rivalry and we can hopefully continue.”
The Falcons are live contestants in the North Central Connecticut Conference. Aside from Northwest Catholic, the Indians are as good as it gets in the Central Connecticut Conference’s West division.
With records nearly identical, the two presently line up to be among the top 10 seeds in the upcoming Class L tournament. As of Monday, Farmington unofficially held the fifth seed and Avon the 10th.
Mix in the fierce neighbor-versus-neighbor paradigm that carries from Al Bell Field at Tunxis Mead for soccer, scales the hill behind campus for field hockey and pours out onto the hardwood for volleyball in the fall and hoops in the winter, and fever was running high.
Farmington led 13-6 at the end of the first quarter, but its advantage in the paint with powerful 6-foot-7 center Ben Pollack, wiry strong 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Obi Momah and support from vigorous football stars Mike English and Ivan Guadalupe concerned Vozzolo. He tried to coax Farmington out of its efficiently executed zone by slowing the game’s tempo.
It worked exceptionally well, prompting a 10-4 second-quarter advantage that lowered the Farmington lead to one point at the half. But Avon managed just three field goals in the second half – all in the third quarter – and Farmington pulled away.
“I’m proud of how our team kept our composure because sometimes when [a slowdown] happens, you tend to lose your composure and the game starts to get away,” Witter said. “You start to do what they want you to do instead of what you do well.”
Pollack (15 points, 10 rebounds, 7 blocked shots), Momah (8 points, 9 rebounds) and guard Jalen Hurst (12 points, 2 steals, 2 assists) tipped the scale.
“[Pollack is] one of the top players in the state. He’s their emotional leader. He’s strong, he’s physical and doesn’t take any possessions off,” Vozzolo said. “Ben is tremendous kid on and off the court and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He plays the right way. He’s a difficult defender and his defense is the best part of his game.”
Momah attended the Northfield Mount Hermon prep school as a freshman before enrolling at FHS for the fall semester. He shows up on regional college scouting reports, which list him as having a wingspan over seven feet.
“Obi has come up through our elementary school, middle school and it’s great to have him at the high school,” Witter said. “He is getting better with every practice. He is getting better every game.
“His potential is limitless at this point. He could be so very good and he wants to be good. He’s a smart kid, so I think he’s going to be very good. He spends the time in the weight room, spends the time in the gymnasium and plays AAU. He’s doing everything he can to be the best player he can possibly be.
“At the beginning of the season, every time we had a game it was a different experience. There are all kids of different styles in the CCC. He was learning on the job. He’s a starter, he’s talented but he had to learn a lot of things really fast, and because we had a veteran team, they couldn’t wait for him. I was going fast and Obi had to try and catch up. He’s caught up a lot.”
Hurst and backcourt running mate Vasil Borisevich have shored up a potential weak spot predicated by the departure of two players who started last year as juniors.
“[Hurst has] been an assassin late in games,” Witter said. “Against Newington, he hit the ‘kill’ shot. [Against Avon] he allowed us to separate by making some big baskets, and not easy shots.”
Borisevich was responsible for increasing the tempo to the team’s comfort zone.
“We just wind him up and let him go,” Witter said. “He practices like that, too. He goes hard all the time. He’s become our best defensive player at 5-8.”
The teams will go their separate ways as they jockey for tournament position. The rivalry could well surface for a third time this season as the teams play out their regular campaigns. Should that be the case, reserve your seats early.