Grafton boys’ basketball gears up for early homestretch


By John Orrell, Contributing Writer

Grafton junior Ifeatu Melifonwu goes up for a layup.
Grafton junior Ifeatu Melifonwu goes up for a layup.

Grafton – Its home for the holidays for the Grafton High boys varsity basketball team – a string of seven consecutive home contests that began with the team’s Dec. 21 matchup with suddenly-powerful Bartlett Regional High. The stretch ranges on through its hosting of David Prouty High School on Friday, Jan. 15. Christmas, New Years and beyond will be all about home cooking for the Indians.

All that time on its own hardwood will hopefully propel the team into the upper echelons of SWCL East standings before the team packs its bags for the first of a lengthy schedule of away-games against perennially tough opponents, both League and non-League. All of that is the goal but more importantly they know they must stay focused and remedy some shortcomings, say coaches and players.

“We’re going to be right in the middle of things,” said head coach John Patraitis, who is assisted by Kevin Bergenholtz. “We’re going to be with any team in our league but with the tough competition we face, it’s going to be tight games all the time. That’s how this league is. We’re all kind of about the same except for Bartlett which has pretty much separated itself from the rest of the pack. But that makes for a competitive league and a fun season with good games.

“We have to have focused practices and we have to limit teams to one shot. One shot and out. Rebounding has to be better to be sure we’re getting a body on every guy. We never want to give second and third opportunities and in this game (versus Bartlett), that was a big problem. We’ll be back ready to work with a lot of positive energy and look to improve every day.”

“We have to get so we’re not looking for the first option but work it through and look for the second or third option,” added junior co-captain Ifeatu Melifonwu. “We have to focus more in practice and give it our all through the whole game. We can be down a lot and still come back. Every game’s going to be a battle.”

The Indians (1-3) dropped a hard-fought contest Dec. 21 to visiting Bartlett, 68-49, but took away only positives. Bartlett (4-0) had defeated all its opponents by double digits so that Grafton knew this matchup would be a challenge. Despite being down, the Indians pounded away from start to finish.

“We knew they (Bartlett) played in transition so we tried to get back fast,” explained senior co-captain Brian Fletcher, who led all team scorers with 19 points which included three 3-pointers. “We tried at the beginning to not get into shooting fast shots but we fell into the trap of shooting too fast.

“But the camaraderie on the team is great. We’re all friends and have been playing together since middle school. We know each other very well. We’ll pull it together for sure.”

Fletcher is also currently eleventh in SWCL scoring with 55 points and a PPG (points per game) of 13.8.

This is a team whose talent and passion for the game are quite evident making it a fun season for players, coaches and team supporters. Playing before appreciative fans has made the season to date that much more enjoyable.

“We’ve got a good group,” Patraitis said. “We’re young with two seniors but what I like about these guys is that they’re all good kids with good team chemistry. They’re all coachable. It makes it real easy for me to come into practice every day with a group like this. They’re just nice kids and real hard workers.”

Members of the 2015-2016 Grafton High boys varsity basketball team are senior co-captains Max Cruz (forward) and Brian Fletcher (guard) along with junior co-captain Ifeatu Melifonwu (guard/forward).

Others seeing ample court time are juniors Justin Bailey (guard), Sean Deely (forward), Thomas McDonald (forward), Tom Nicalek (guard), Tyler Rogers (guard), Sean Thompson (guard), Ryan Tyldesley (guard) and Patrick Young (forward) along with sophomores Brian Recchia (guard) and Kyle Sawtelle (guard).

Photos/Matt Dwyer

Justin Bailey (10) is defended by Bartlett's Justin Pepka (5) as he goes up for a layup.
Justin Bailey (10) is defended by Bartlett’s Justin Pepka (5) as he goes up for a layup.
Grafton's Kyle Sawtelle tries to get past Bartlett's Kyle Anderson.
Grafton’s Kyle Sawtelle tries to get past Bartlett’s Kyle Anderson.