Boys basketball: Warriors hold off Pomperaug in opener, 67-63

Wilton High boys basketball head coach Joel Geriak says the Warriors pride themselves on conditioning — and that might have been the difference in Wednesday night’s 67-63 win over Pomperaug in an entertaining season opener at Zeoli Field House.

The Warriors and Panthers battled all game in a back-and-forth tilt, until the Warriors seemed to find an extra gear over the final eight minutes to pull out the win.

Wilton, playing without senior captain Jack Williams, who is injured, used an 8-1 run midway through the fourth quarter to grab the lead and played with great tenacity and poise down the stretch to secure the win.

“I believe we’re the best conditioned team in the league. And experienced. This is now the second year for all these kids and they learned how to put games away last year — and tonight they did the same thing,” said Geriak.

“It really came all from the preseason. We’ve been doing conditioning. We’ve been practicing these situations. We were just really prepared for this,” said senior guard Matt Kronenberg, who led Wilton with 21 points. “It was a team effort towards the end. We all played defense. We all rebounded and we all made the plays that counted.”

The Panthers led for most of the first half, taking their biggest lead, 33-24, with 3:56 left in the second quarter. But Wilton hung close, despite nine first-half turnovers, and cut the gap to 37-34 at halftime when Kronenberg took the ball to the rim, switched to his left hand and banked in a tough shot in traffic.

Josh McGettigan, a versatile 6’7” player who led all scorers with 26 points, including four 3-pointers, hit a trey to open the third quarter. But Kronenberg energized Wilton with a driving layup, following by a drive and dish to set up Kyle Shifrin’s layup. After Drew Connolly drained a pull-up jumper, Kronenberg drove into traffic and scored on a floater to put Wilton ahead for the first time since the opening quarter, 42-41.

After that, the teams traded baskets until Scott Cunningham drained a 3-pointer from the wing to put the Warriors up 47-46 with under a minute left in the period.

McGettigan scored a conventional three-point play to make it 49-47, but the Warriors made it 49-49 after three quarters when Kyle Maatallah used a beautiful crossover move to score on a drive late in the quarter.

McGettigan drained two 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to put Pomperaug up 56-51. Jack Wood answered by swishing a 3-pointer from the corner, and when Kronenberg dropped in a pull-up jumper, the Panther lead was down to 58-57.

In what proved to be a pivotal play, Pomperaug’s Chase Belden drove to the basket for a layup, only to have basket nullified as Wood was in position to draw the charge. Wood then came up big on the other end a minute later, grabbing a loose ball in the lane and scoring inside while fouled. The conventional three-point play put Wilton up 60-59 with 3:16 left.

Connolly then scored on a tough driving bank shot, and after a Pomperaug turnover, Shifrin’s free throw upped the lead to 63-59.

Matt Wynne scored off a drive for the Panthers to cut the lead to two, but Kronenberg got inside the defense once again, dribbling into traffic and scoring a tough layup among much taller players, to make it 65-61 with 1:30 left.

Jason Hirschauer’s baseline drive kept the Panthers close, 65-63, and after a held ball, Pomperaug had a chance to tie the game or take the lead, but missed a 3-pointer with under 40 seconds left.

Kronenberg then drove the lane again and dished off to Breslin, whose layup make it 67-63 with 15 seconds left.

In addition to his 12 points, Kronenberg had four assists, a steal and four rebounds.

“We had to play our own game. We had to play fast. We had to box out. We had to play defense and we had to make the right plays,” said Kronenberg, noting that the Warriors’ depth this season helped them overcome the loss of Williams.

“Jack impacts the game in so many ways. We’re going to feel the difference without him but I think with everyone else and the team effort we can make up for what he has. Each and every night everyone can step up.”

Williams, who is nursing an injury, may return in a week or two.

“When he comes back we’ll be a different team,” said coach Geriak, adding that winning a tough game without Williams “says a lot about our team,” especially after playing a subpar first half.

“They responded. They played much better in the second half. The man to man picked up and they rebounded better. The 50/50 balls, in the first half we weren’t getting to them. In the second half, we made sure we got to those.”

Breslin, who started in place of Williams, came up with a huge effort, finishing with 14 points, including two 3-pointers, and three rebounds. He was key to keeping Wilton in the game in the first half with 12 points.

Connolly had a great all-around game with eight points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Wood had eight points and three rebounds — and drew two key charges.

Rounding out the scoring were Shifrin (six points), Maatallah (four points) and Cunningham and Nick Kronenberg with three points each, both on treys. The Warriors also got significant contributions off the bench from Robbie Hermann, Joe Pozzi and Kyle Phillips.

In addition to McGettigan’s 26 points, Pomperaug got 17 points from Belden (two 3-pointers), while Tom Satkowski scored seven points and Will McDonald had six points (two 3-pointers) and five rebounds.

Despite the tough loss, Pomperaug head coach David Yachtis thought it was a good early-season effort by both teams.

“Two good teams going at it. It was fun. It was a good high school game,” he said. “They executed better than we did. They got what they wanted at the end and that was the difference in the game.”

In the end, the ability of the Wilton guards — Matt Kronenberg and Connolly — to take the ball to the basket proved to be decisive, he said.

“Defensively we had a problem stopping their dribble penetration. Those guards, especially #3 (Kroneneberg), oh my God. He made all the right decisions with the ball. We couldn’t stay in front of him and when we did he’d step back and take the jump shot,” he said. “Their guards are really, really good basketball players. They kept them in the game until the end.”
— J.B. Cozens