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NFA boys hold off St. Bernard

Norwich — The legacy left behind by four departed players from Norwich Free Academy’s undefeated team last season could occupy conversation for days. And now their absence has made senior Jared Martin appreciate their presence even more.

Martin even talked to 2020 mainstays Mason Jackson and Xavier Marquez over the weekend, following NFA’s opening loss to New London. Their wisdom helped Martin score a game-high 18 points Tuesday night as the Wildcats defeated stubborn St. Bernard, 53-47, in the South Division of the Eastern Connecticut Conference.

“They talked to me about the role I have to take as a senior,” Martin said. “It’s about leadership, not all about scoring.”

It’s also about patience. Martin has seen the top defensive player from each team in the first two games.

“He got Tayeshawn (Cunningham-Pemberton of New London) and Frank (Pacheco) tonight,” NFA coach Chris Guisti said. “He’s finding out what it’s like to be the No. 1 man on the scouting report. Last year, he could float around out there and shoot open threes.”

Max Pierre-Louis added a career-high 17 for NFA as it won a matchup of last season’s Division I and Division II league champions.

Pacheco led the Saints with 15 points. This was St. Bernard’s first game of the season.

“I thought we competed,” St. Bernard coach Mark Jones said. “We’ve just got to do a better job rebounding. I mean gang rebounding. We’re not that tall.”

The Saints trailed by seven late in the third when Tyson Wheeler made a 30-footer at the buzzer to bring his team within four. Pacheco made an early three to get St. Bernard within one, but the Saints never took the lead.

Walker Baillargeon had 14 for St. Bernard, Cedrick Similien had 10 and Wheeler finished with eight.

“It’s going to be a different kind of year,” Jones said. “But I think if we can get a rhythm going, we’ll be OK.”

Guisti said the Wildcats, who turned it over 21 times at New London, didn’t turn it over nearly as much in this game. Still, he agreed with Jones about the different circumstances of COVID basketball.

“Not having a crowd makes a big difference,” Guisti said. “It’s just a different kind of feel, a different kind of energy.”


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