Boys basketball: Wilton downs Falcons, earns fifth seed for FCIACs

After starting the season a perfect 10 -0, the Wilton High boys basketball team battled some key injuries, stopped playing its style of basketball, and struggled against conference opponents, going 5-5 the second half of the season.

In Wednesday night’s regular-season finale, the Warriors were looking to find their earlier success and go into the FCIAC playoffs on a high note with a win — in addition to facing the emotions of Senior Night.

The Warriors got out to an early lead, hit five first-half 3-pointers, played great defense, weathered a comeback attempt, and came away with a 56-42 victory over the Fairfield Ludlowe Falcons at the Zeoli Fieldhouse.

With the win, Wilton nabbed the fifth seed for the FCIAC playoffs and will face the fourth-seeded Trinity Catholic Crusaders in quarterfinals on Saturday at 5 at Fairfield Warde. Trinity handed Wilton its first loss of the season when they beat the Warriors 69-55 a month ago.

“Against Trinity we just have to go out and trust our game plan and execute it. I hope the senior can step up and lead the way knowing that their career is near the end,” said head coach Joel Geriak. “We have to put the loss to them earlier this season behind us, move on and play solid on defense and run the floor.

The Warriors (15-5) never trailed in Wednesday’s game. Ludlowe’s big man, Frank Lumaj, won the opening tip, but Drew Connolly stole the ball and went in for an uncontested layup and the Warriors were on their way to their 15th win of the season. A Ryan Keeley 3-pointer for the Falcons’ first bucket of the game put the score at 4-3 early in the period.

Wilton finished out the first quarter by outscoring Ludlowe 13-3 for a 17- 6 lead after one. Ludlowe had only two baskets and a free throw in the period, while the Warriors knocked down three 3-pointers.

Seniors Jackson Cote and Joe Pozzi got the start for the Warriors on Senior Night. Cote and junior Robbie Hermann played great in the paint on the defensive end to keep the Lumaj off the boards or scoring from down low.

Wilton pushed its lead to as much as 16 in the second quarter at 25-9 and led 33-20 at the half. Matt Kronenberg was driving to the basket, going in for a layup when he had an opening or dishing it to a teammate on the back side for an easy basket. Kronenberg also threaded a perfect bounce pass to Hermann for a layup.

The second half started with Kyle Maatallah driving to the hoop and dishing the ball off to Cote for a layup. But the Warriors’ offense struggled a bit in the third quarter, as they only scored eight points and gave the visitors hope for a comeback. Wilton still led 41-30 after three quarters.

“We do that in a lot of games,” said senior Jack Wood about the third-quarter struggle. “The coach told us to go out and have some fun and play our style of uptempo basketball and that’s what we did early. We came out firing. We played like it was a pick-up game. We played well on defense and we are getting healthy as a team. In the second half they slowed the pace of the game and we just let them and that got us out of our rhythm.”

Wood, while not a big scoring threat, contributes to the team’s success in many other ways. He plays hard on defense and has an uncanny skill of taking a charge.

Wood went on to talk about the emotions of Senior Night.

“I was excited before the game and when it started, but as the game went on I started to feel a bit sad.”

The Falcons’ second-half push carried into the fourth quarter and with 5:05 remaining Ludlowe had pulled to within four points at 43-39. But the Warriors picked up their pace to pull away for the victory. The highlight of the Warriors’ final run was a reverse underhand layup by Connolly with two minutes left.

“We got back to being ourselves tonight and we are finally getting healthy,” said Wilton head coach Joel Geriak. “Cote and Hermann did a great job under the boards, everybody boxed out, limiting their second chance baskets. On offense we attacked the basket and when that wasn’t there we did a good job in dishing off the ball. As well as we played in the first half, we didn’t execute in the second half and we let them hang around.”

Hermann, the benefactor of dish-off passes in the paint, led the Warriors with 12 points, followed by Matt Kronenberg with 11 points. Keeley led Ludlowe with 11 points and Lumaj added 10 points.