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Jake Palluzzi said that every athlete on this year's Branford boys' basketball squad understood their role, embraced it, and was eager to share the rock with their teammates. It was this degree of sharing and caring that propelled the Hornets to one of their best seasons in program history as Palluzzi's squad won a record 18 games, including a pair in the Class L State Tournament.
Branford went 16-4 overall and 4-4 in the SCC Oronoque during a regular season that featured a huge victory versus Hamden in which the Hornets were without leading scorer Nick Dummar, yet won when Seth Karlins found fellow senior Sam Poryanda for a lay-up at the buzzer. The Hornets also avenged defeats to division foes Cross and North Haven by winning the rematches with scores of 55-50 and 49-38, respectively. Branford then prevailed on one of the season's most emotional evenings by beating Shelton 50-42 on a Senior Night in which the Hornets not only honored their Housatonic League champion teams from 1977 and '78, but also, an athlete from that squad and subsequent Hornets' coach in Paul Sturgess, who would pass away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on Feb. 26.
Branford then capped its campaign by defeating Woodstock Academy (52-40) and Berlin (31-29) in the Class L bracket before losing to Farmington (45-39) in the quarterfinals and finish at 18-6.
"It was a bittersweet and emotional season with losing Paul, but if any group could handle it, it was this one," said Palluzzi, who finished his 24th campaign as head coach.
The Hornets recently presented a slew of awards to several of these athletes at the team's banquet, including their trio of senior captains in point guard Dylan Palluzzi, small forward Dummar, and center Poryanda.
Palluzzi was an All-SCC Oronoque First Team selection, co-recipient of Branford's Joe Chandler, Jr. Most Improved Player Award, led the team by averaging five assists per game to win the Stan Petela Award, led Branford in three-pointers with 42 to get the Tom Murray Award, and also led in steals at 3.1 a game to be presented with the Jim McVeigh Award. On top of that, Palluzzi played in the Connecticut High School Coaches' Association All-Star Game in which he scored seven points with five assists and three steals.
Meanwhile, Dummar was also All-Oronoque First Team and made the New Haven Tap-Off Club All-Area squad by leading the Hornets with 14 points and four blocks a game, the latter which earned him the Paul Sturgess Award.
Then was the outstanding season put forth by Poryanda, who averaged a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds per contest and received Branford's Ray Orsene Desire and Dedication Award, in addition to being a Tap-Off Club Scholar Athlete.
The Hornets also handed out the Jerry Crotty Award to senior small forward Zac Cast for leading the team in free-throw percentage with a clip of 77 percent, the Elks' Club Hustle Award, plus the Joe Farina Take Charge Award for being the team's top defensive player to senior shooting guard Connor Moriarty, and the John E. Knecht, Jr. Sportsmanship Award to senior forward Matt White. Branford also presented senior shooting guard Karlins (9.2 points, 3.5 assists per game) with the Most Improved Player Award, alongside Palluzzi.
The Hornets also dished out the Jack Corning Service Award to a pair of people who lent a hand during the campaign in program alum Kunimel Lomotey and junior Ari Karlins for handling video and scorekeeping duties, respectively.
Coach Palluzzi also named next season's senior captains in point guard Jeff Mahon and power forward Andy Klarman, who played some varsity minutes and guided Branford's JV squad to an 18-1 record.
Speaking of the JV team, Rusty Gordon coached that squad, Tom Webster coached the freshmen, and both coaches helped out Palluzzi on varsity with Rick Healy.