Boys basketball: Warriors advance to FCIAC finals for first time
For the first time in school history, the Wilton High boys basketball team has advanced to the FCIAC championship game.
The fifth-seeded Warriors (17-5) got there by beating the number-one seeded Trumbull Eagles, 72-66, on Tuesday night at the Fairfield Warde gym.
Wilton will square off against its arch-rival, the Ridgefield Tigers, on Thursday night. Due to the anticipated large crowd, the schools are looking to change the venue for the game, which for now is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Fairfield Warde.
Third-seeded Ridgefield beat the seventh-seeded Danbury Hatters 67-63 in double overtime earlier in the night. The Tigers (16-6) will also be making their first-ever appearance in the FCIAC finals.
This is the fifth straight season that the Warriors have qualified for the FCIAC playoffs, but they could never reach the championship game until Tuesday’s win.
“I feel this team was ready to be in the championship game and I’m so excited for the kids,” said Wilton head coach Joel Geriak. “This has been five years in the making and we finally made it. The kids worked hard to get here, had to overcome injuries to key players, and some tough losses in the second half of the season. One of the key reasons we made it this year is that we have more depth on the team and these guys have played alongside each other for a long time.”
He continued, “We made some adjustments to our game plan since we lost to them in the regular season, and the team went out and executed as we asked. We also didn’t have Jack Williams the last time we played and he clearly made a difference tonight.”
The Warriors got off to a quick start in the game as they drained four 3-pointers in the first quarter to take a 22-11 lead at the end of the first period. The Warriors closed out the period on an 8-0 run.
Jack Williams and Sean Breslin had the hot hands for the Warriors as they knocked down two 3-pointers each. Williams had eight points in the first quarter. Robbie Herman, who earned a start at center for the second straight game, chipped in with four points.
The Eagles also connected from long range with three 3-pointers.
The Warrior offense stalled in the second quarter, and turning the ball over six times didn’t help. Wilton’s three-point attempts didn’t fall like they did in the first quarter and Trumbull capitalized on the Warrior turnovers. Wilton could only manage six points in the second quarter and when Timmond Williams put in a missed shot at the buzzer, the game was tied at 28-28 at the half.
“I think since we hit some threes in the first quarter, we started settling for those shots in the second quarter and stopped driving to the rim. That combined that they came out and played better, got them back even with us,” said Geriak.
The Warriors came out of the break and re-established their lead. Drew Connolly attacked the rim for a bucket and got fouled. He converted his free throw for the conventional three-point play. A fade-away jumper by Williams, followed by 3-pointer by Williams, put Wilton up 36-30. The Eagles went ahead 38-36 with 3:02 to play in the third quarter when Timmond Williams hit a 3-pointer.
But the next time down the floor Jack Wood drained a 3-pointer of his own to give Wilton the lead back at 39-38. Connolly scored to end the third quarter with the Warriors ahead 43-41 going into the final eight minutes of play.
The Warrior faithful got a huge scare late in the third quarter when Jack Williams went out of the game with an injury. William, who missed several games year due to several injuries, mostly his knee, and is referred to as his coach and teammates as the “glue”, did return midway through the fourth quarter.
With Williams, who had scored 18 points before his injury, and his return in question, the Warriors needed someone else to carry the torch for the team. Connolly stepped to the front and scored 11 of his 19 points for the game in the final quarter to lead his team to victory.
Matt Kronenberg gave Wilton a little breathing room with another conventional three-point play to start the fourth quarter, extending the lead to 46-41. With the score at 48-46 in favor of Wilton early in the period, the Warriors 3-pointers, the first by Breslin and the next two by Connolly, and two foul shots by Kyle Maatallah put the Warriors up 59-46 with just over five minutes to play.
But Trumbull wasn’t going away without a fight, as the Eagles hit three 3-pointers down the stretch to make the game interesting. The Eagles got within five points four times in the closing minutes of the game and were forced to foul Wilton to save time on the clock.
Wilton closed out the game by going five-for-six from the free-throw line to seal the deal.
“It’s unbelievable. We have been talking about playing a for a championship since middle school,” said Connolly referring to his fellow seniors and himself. “Our coach puts in countless hours preparing for the game, watching films and drawing up a game plan. He gets us so prepared for the game, all we have to do is go out and execute it.”
Late in the game the Eagles started pressing the Warriors’ inbounds pass, which seemed to give them trouble.
“They came out in a 1-2-2 press and sometimes it’s hard to read and it took us a while to get the ball in the front court, but we stayed composed and got the win. There are a lot of seniors on this team and we’re not ready for our season to end yet.”
Connolly led Wilton with 19 points, followed by 18 points for Williams, who had four 3-pointers. Kronenberg hit for 10 points and Breslin scored nine points, on three 3-pointers.
Hermann (six points), Maatallah (five points), Jack Wood (three points) and Joe Pozzi (two points) rounded out the Wilton scoring.