Boys basketball: Warriors advance to state quarterfinals

The sixth-seeded Wilton boys basketball team advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Class L state tournament with a hard-fought 64-57 win over the 11th-seeded Newington Indians on Thursday night at Zeoli Fieldhouse.

The Warriors (19-6) will now face the 14th-seeded Crosby Bulldogs on Monday night at 7 in Wilton. Crosby upset third-seeded Bassick on Thursday night, 82-74.

As soon as Wilton head coach Joel Geriak found out that his team was to square off against Newington in the second round, he had his game plan ready to go.

“As soon as I found out that they won their game I knew the defensive game plan I was going to use against them,” said Geriak. “The goal was to limit the scoring of their two players, Jared Simmons and Matt McKinnon. Simmons can beat you with his game multiple ways and McKinnon plays good under the basket. Our plan was to use sophomores Kyle Phillips and Ryan Schriber to shadow Simmons the entire game in the team’s man-to-man defensive scheme.”

Phillips drew the first assignment on Simmons and Schriber took the second. Simmons was forced to the bench after he picked up two early fouls.

“Yeah, Simmons ended up getting 22 points on the night, but Phillips and Schriber made him work for his shots and they played their butts off. They both gave me a great performance and clearly contributed to the team’s winning effort,” added Geriak.

The game was close for the first three quarters, with neither team having any significant runs. Wilton’s biggest lead of the first half was seven points and they led by five points three times in the second quarter. A Wilton steal and a layup by Kyle Maatallah put the Warriors ahead 21-14 early in the second quarter.

Neither team could put up big numbers in the offensive rebounding category, as both teams protected their paint. The contest was very physical, with a lot of bumping and hand-checking that weren’t called.

The Indians led briefly in the first quarter, but the Warriors led 14-11 at the end of the period.

Wilton lead the entire second quarter, but the Indians’ Timmy Rivera’s putback at the buzzer had the game tied at 34-34 going into halftime.

McKinnon sank two free throws to start the third quarter and put Newington up 36-34. Matt Kronenberg answered with a 3-pointer the next trip down the floor, putting Wilton back up, 37-36. A bucket by McKinnon with 2:13 left in the period gave Newington the lead again at 43-42.

The 10th and final 3-pointer of the game by Schriber and a drive to the hole by Matt Kronenberg gave the Warriors a 47-43 lead going into the final quarter.

Drew Connolly hit a bucket to open the fourth quarter and the Warriors never looked back, as they went on to outscore the Indians 17-14 in the final period for the 64-57 win. Newington got within four points three times in the period, with the last time at 59-55 after two foul shots from Simmons. Wilton closed out the game going five-for-six from the free-throw line.

Neither team shot lights out from the foul line as the Warriors were 14-for-23, while the Indians were 13-for-22.

Matt Kronenberg was high man for the Warriors with 22 points, followed by Connolly with 15 points.

“We stayed focused and played through their hard defense to come away with the win. We want to keep playing and show everybody that we are the best team in the tournament from the FCIAC,” said Kronenberg. “I’m motivated to play hard because there is no FCIAC banner in our gym from this year’s game. We had to push that loss aside and move on. We need to play bigger than we are as a team to keep advancing in the playoffs.”

Simmons led the Indians with 22 points and McKinnon added 12 points.

Note: The game had a special moment at the start as Geriak honored senior captain Jack Williams, who is officially ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Williams was announced in the Wilton starting lineup and was on the court for the game’s opening tip. Newington let Wilton win the opening tip, as prearranged with the Newington’s head coach. The ball went to Williams and he traveled with the ball to turn it back over to the Indians. Williams exited the floor to a well-deserved standing ovation.

“Jack has meant so much to the team and the program and I wanted him to get the proper send-off from the home crowd. I didn’t want his last cheer coming from him leaving the FCIAC Championship game with the injury,” said Geriak.