MONROE, CT — On a night when Masuk celebrated the life of late Jockey Hollow Middle School boys basketball coach, Pete Simoulidis, who died suddenly last year at age 44, the Panthers went on an 18-13 run to end the third quarter with a commanding 51-39 lead over Weston at David Strong Gym, but Masuk’s shooters cooled off in the final quarter.
The Panthers had only scored four points as their lead slowly slipped away. Weston tied the game at 55-55 with 48 seconds left in regulation and, to make matters worse, the visitors had possession of the ball with 16.7 seconds left.
Then Masuk got a break when a Weston player stepped on the line while inbounding the ball at half court. The violation gave the Panthers the ball with 15.8 seconds left.
Ethan Palma inbounded the ball to Mitch DeBernardo, who dribbled to the top of the key and threw a pass to Tyler Newsom down low.
Then Newsom hit a short jumper over the outstretched hand of a defender to give Masuk the lead 57-55 as the hometown crowd erupted into cheers.
But there was still 4.9 seconds left on the clock.
After a timeout, Weston’s shooting guard Jamie Stack, who had 10 points, including two three-pointers in the game, launched a corner three that would have won it for the Trojans, but the shot bounced off the front of the rim.
The crowd cheered and jubilant Masuk players ran to center court to celebrate their SWC victory. Among them was Simoulidis’ son, Alex, a Masuk junior, who said he felt like his father was watching over them.
“It was obviously pretty huge,” he said of the moment. “All the energy and the environment … we almost had to win.”
Of his late father, Alex said, “he was the reason they missed the three at the end. As soon as I saw that shot, I knew it was a miss.”
“He gave us a chance at the end,” Masuk Head Coach Peter Szklarz agreed. “He’s definitely here with us and gave us that victory.”
Panagiotis “Pete” Simoulidis had coached all of the Panthers on Masuk’s roster when they were in middle school, as well as those who played in summer leagues. On Thursday, many of Simoulidis’ former players joined them to honor his memory.
A touching tribute
Before Thursday’s game, a jersey presentation was held at center court. Players and former players of Simoulidis lined up behind a framed Masuk jersey displayed on an easel.
The number on the red jersey was zero, but a small patch below the collar displayed the number 30.
“That was Pete’s favorite number playing basketball as a kid,” said Michele Francisco, whose son Colin plays on the Panthers. “All the kids have the 30 patch to honor him.”
The jersey will be given to Simoulidis’ family, including his wife, Heather, and sons, Chris and Alex.
Donations, a 50/50 raffle and concession purchases raised a total of $6,040 for the Pete Simoulidis Scholarship, which Francisco said will be awarded to a graduating Masuk senior who embodies the same kindness and passion for basketball that Pete did.
During the jersey ceremony, Joel Castillo, who is on Masuk’s coaching staff, called Simoulidis “a remarkable individual who left an indelible mark on the Monroe community and the Masuk basketball program.”
“Tonight we gather, not only for the love of the game, but to honor and celebrate the enduring legacy of Coach Pete Simoulidis,” he said. “Coach Pete, as many of you know, dedicated his life to shaping the future of countless young men in our community. His passion for the game was only matched by his genuine care for each of the players he coached over the years.”
Castillo asked everyone in the bleachers who was coached by Simoulidis at Jockey Hollow or whose sons played for him to stand. Most who filled the seats on one side of the gymnasium stood.
“As you all can see, Coach Pete touched the lives of so many in our community and on behalf of Masuk boys basketball, we are thrilled to honor him tonight,” Castillo said.
He said Simoulidis taught invaluable life lessons with grace, tenacity and humor, while guiding young men through the complexities of life and leaving an everlasting mark on their character.
“Let’s play and coach this game with the same passion, dedication and love that Coach Pete instilled in each player,” Castillo said. “Tonight is about more than just a basketball game. It’s a celebration of a legacy, a tribute to a mentor and a joyful embrace of the sport.”
A big conference win
Newsom was the Panthers’ top scorer Thursday with 11 points and DeBernardo, Alex Simoulidis and Colin Francisco hit two threes a piece. Simoulidis had 10 points, and DeBernardo and Francisco both had 9.
In a game where every point mattered, Matt Domenichelli scored 7 points, Ethan Palma had 6 and Oliver Irving pitched in with 5.
When the Panthers’ offense stalled in the fourth quarter, Szklarz said his players had open looks from three point land, but their shots just weren’t falling.
“They learned to go to the basket more when you have that lead,” he said. “When those shots are not falling, you have to switch things up. The boys played so fantastic. They played so hard.”
Szklarz said Newsom had a great look for his game-winning-shot. The coach also praised Palma for “giving great minutes off the bench.”
Palma made several hustle plays.
In the first half he missed a jumper, ran after the ball, grabbed the rebound and made a shot. Palma later sprinted down the court to stop Weston from scoring on a fast break, and he hit a key basket down the stretch to put Masuk up 55-48 with 2:32 left in the game and the Trojans closing in.
“He makes those team winning basketball plays,” Szklarz said.
The Panthers, who recently beat Darien 66-49, have now won three games in a row, improving their overall record to 5-3. But more importantly, Szklarz said Thursday’s contest with Weston was Masuk’s first league game, so the team is 1-0 where their record counts the most.
“I do feel good about it,” Szklarz said. “Anytime you get a league win, it’s fantastic.”
The Panthers have another tough league game on Monday, when they face visiting Notre Dame of Fairfield at 7 p.m.
All respectful comments with the commenter’s first and last name are welcome.