Neuqua Valley's 2013-14 boys basketball season has taken a turn for the better since a 1-2 start.
The Wildcats picked up their sixth straight victory in beating Bartlett 61-44 on Thursday night, but they also concluded a stretch of five straight games against the Upstate Eight Valley, where Neuqua Valley went 5-0 against its conference foes.
Coach Todd Sutton cited a renewed sense of commitment in practice as the reason for the turnaround over the last three weeks.
"Our practices got a lot better; we really picked up our intensity," Sutton said. "Right after the (Oswego) tournament, it was a mess. I thought our guys have improved so much, especially defensively."
Bartlett jumped out to an early lead thanks to a pair of 3-pointers by Ryan DiCanio, followed by a steal and layup from Justin Busch that put the Hawks up 8-5.
Connor Raridon tied the game with a baseline 3-pointer, and then Josh Piotrowski connected on a floater in the lane to put the Wildcats up 10-8.
That lead held the rest of the game as Raridon's aforementioned 3-pointer started a 13-0 run that began midway through the first quarter and ended with 6:10 left in the second quarter.
"Neuqua Valley does a really good job of hunkering down defensively, make three or four stops, and they always find a way to convert down on the other end," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "Once a team like Neuqua Valley gains some separation from you, it's hard to chase them because they're so disciplined offensively and defensively."
The Wildcats extended their 7-point halftime lead right from the start of the third quarter as Elijah Robertson scored off a rebound to open the second half.
Robertson followed with a steal on Bartlett's ensuing offensive possession and then assisted on an 8-foot jumper by Demond George, which made the score 30-19.
DiCanio knocked down his fourth and final 3-pointer of the night from the top of the key to cut the Wildcats' lead down to 32-26, but the Hawks would get no closer.
Neuqua Valley's Zach Incaudo scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half to help keep Bartlett at a comfortable distance the rest of the game.
"Our defense and rebounding have really come around," Raridon said. "We're holding teams to one shot every time down the court, getting rebounds, followed by transition baskets."
The Wildcats take a break from conference play and will take part in the East Aurora Tournament on Dec. 26-30.
"We're shifting gears," Sutton said. "It's been a conference grind, but the holiday tournament is chance to play some different teams with different styles."