He has played a key role for the Old Saybrook boys' basketball team all season long, but senior captain and guard Mike Barrett is what the Rams—and opposing teams—call a secret weapon, particularly last week during the opening two games of the Class S State Tournament. After scoring the tying and winning basket for Old Saybrook in its first-round double overtime victory earlier in the week over 6th-seeded Coventry, Barrett notched the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer when the Rams traveled to crosstown rival Westbrook on the night of March 7 for Class S second round play, advancing his 27th-seeded team to the quarterfinals with a 62-59 victory.
"We just talked about getting the shot in bounds and I knew I wanted the shot," said Barrett, who scored 17 total points on the night. "They were just trying to get it to me I guess and see if we could make it. We did it Tuesday, so I was just trying to do the same thing. Our team is playing hard and we couldn't have done it without everybody."
Old Saybrook was undoubtedly running high on adrenaline when it faced 11th-seeded Westbrook, as were the Knights, who defeated 22nd-ranked Stafford after coming alive in the second half of the season.
"Both teams I think played as well as they could. We had a stretch where we didn't play as well and they got ahead of us, and they had a stretch at the end of the third quarter/start of the fourth that we kind of hopped back in it, and then we made plays at the end and obviously Michael for the second night in a row makes the biggest play," said Saybrook Coach Tim Arsenault. "He waited a little too long tonight for my old heart, but this is a great rivalry. I wish our kids hadn't rushed the court so we could've shook [Westbrook's] hands, but, it is what it is and in the heat of the moment, the kids were really excited."
The game was super-charged from the get-go at an overpacked Westbrook High School gymnasium. The Rams set the tone immediately, as senior forward Suraj Khosla (10 points) notched four consecutive points to put his team on the board before Westbrook junior guard/forward Faruk Cecunjanin (20 points) notched a three-pointer prior to the Knights getting into some foul trouble and allowing Saybrook to earn three free-throw points from Khosla and Barrett. After a missed three, Westbrook regained possession on a rebound and junior center Chris Dahl notched two, followed by a three from Saybrook's Barrett and Westbrook's Cecunjanin, two of many threes on the night. After two from Saybrook sophomore guard Sam Henry, the Knights then gained their first lead of the night on three from junior guard/forward Jordan Bernard for the tie and two from Cecunjanin for the lead. Saybrook responded with a three by junior guard Danny Murphy to take back the lead before Bernard notched two on a jump shot over the heads of the Rams' defense. Junior guard Sam Grigo preserved the Knights' lead with a three-pointer, but Barrett shot a three of his own at the buzzer—a sign of things to come—to help the Rams pull to within one, 19-18, at the end of the first quarter.
"Tough loss. [Barrett] has hit three shots—one to put them into overtime against Coventry, then to win against Coventry, and then to beat us," said Westbrook Coach Jeff Beeman. "They've obviously improved from the time we played them earlier in the year and we knew Barrett was the player and we thought we had him defended; we actually had two guys on him. He hit a great shot."
The Knights continued to keep their lead in the second half. Barrett led off with a three for Old Saybrook before Grigo answered with a three from the arc. The Rams then committed a turnover that led to another three by Grigo, followed by junior guard/forward Cade Muckle's steal at half court, which ultimately led to him being fouled upon under the net and earning a free-throw point. Grigo launched his third three of the night, followed by Saybrook junior guard Nate Corrado's two. Westbrook then saw points from Cecunjanin (3), Muckle (3), and Grigo (3), while Barrett (3), Corrado (4), and Khosla (2) contributed for Saybrook, which trailed the Knights 38-34 going into halftime.
"Barrett is just that good a player, and we knew it, that's why he's First Team All-Shoreline," said Beeman. "We had a few glitches on defense where we got so focused in on Henry and Barrett where we left their role players open for bunnies."
It appeared midway through the third quarter that Westbrook began to pull away with the game, aided by Muckle (4), Cecunjanin (3), Grigo (4), and senior captain and guard Torin Wood (2)—who proved a powerhouse on defense throughout the night—as the Knights earned a 47-38 advantage; their biggest lead of the game. Saybrook contributed with points of its own behind Khosla (2), Henry (2), Murphy (2), and Barrett (3) and continued to stay behind Westbrook 51-45 at the end of three.
Saybrook led off the fourth quarter strong with four consecutive points from Corrado to pull the Rams to within two points. After a failed basket for Westbrook, Muckle showed off his defensive prowess with a blocked shot, much to the delight of the Knights' faithful, but senior guard Mike Souza took back the lead for the Rams for the first time since the first half with his three-pointer before Barrett increased the lead with his two to make it 54-51, forcing a Westbrook timeout.
"I like when games come down to that kind of stuff. Westbrook is a great team; I respect them a lot. I wish we could've shaken their hands, but they walked off. It was the heat of the moment, but I'm sorry about that," said Souza. "If we doubt ourselves, we're going to lose [in the quarters], but we have to keep playing at this momentum and we can make a run. We're the 27th seed—no one would've thought."
With under four minutes to go, Old Saybrook found itself in some foul trouble as Cecunjanin went 3-for-6 on free throws before Henry launched a three-pointer with two-and-a-half minutes left. Souza scored a two on a jump shot, followed by a three from Cecunjanin to pull the Knights to within 59-57 with 1:23 left to play and a Westbrook timeout called. After Souza missed a free-throw opportunity, Muckle scored two for Westbrook to tie the game up at 59-59 with 20 seconds left. Barrett then earned possession and stalled at half court, dribbling the ball from side to side and then swiftly moving to his left and as the clock ran out, launched a shot from outside the arc that found the net and sent the Old Saybrook fans swarming onto the court in celebration of the Rams' 62-59 victory that advanced them to the quarterfinals.
"Mike [Barrett] made a big three to put us up by five, Nate Corrado came in off the bench and played some great defense and got us going in that stretch when we were down and then up by three," said Arsenault, whose squad is now 10-12. "Danny Murphy played great defense and did a nice job on Faruk—it's a team effort. When the bracket came out, I told the kids 'trust me, I think you can win a couple of these.' Am I surprised? No. A little bit, happily, but not completely. We're feeling really good."
Westbrook ended its season with a strong 13-10 record, most of the wins coming in the second half of the season and earning them a state tournament berth.
"We had a stretch in the fourth quarter where we got away from our offensive strategy. We're all about movement—ball movement, people movement, and we were just jacking up shots and we can't win that way. The shots weren't going in," said Beeman. "We had a good shot at the end—Cade hit one to get us tied—and I thought we'd be in overtime. Sam was on fire in the first half and then they locked down on him in the second half and we committed a ton of turnovers in the second. They actually called more illegal screens on us than we've had all year. The seniors are all in tears—my biggest disappointment is I don't get to be with them for another few weeks. They were a good group. I'm proud of them. We went from 6-14 to 13-10 and basically with the same roster. They've really matured."