Boys basketball: Wilton's run ends just short of state finals

The sixth-seeded Wilton High boys basketball team’s terrific season came to an end with an 81-61 loss to second-seeded Notre Dame-Fairfield in the semifinal round for the Class L state tournament on Thursday night at the Fairfield Warde gym.

To say the Warriors came up short is both figuratively and physically correct. Wilton had no answer for the size of the Lancers, who at times during the game had four players on the floor that measured 6’2” or taller. Notre Dame had their big men knocking down ‘threes’ and guarding the Warriors’ shooters on the wings, taking away Wilton’s three-point attempts.

All season long the Warriors squared off against teams that had more height, but on Thursday every time you looked at the floor, the Lancers were putting another big man on the court.

Also during the season it was the Warriors’ game plan to take away one of their opponent’s top players or close down one of their strengths and come away with the win. But Notre Dame had too many strengths and multiple versatile players for the Warriors to handle.

“They had too many weapons for us to handle tonight. They shot well, got into a rhythm and capitalized on our defensive lapses,” said Wilton head coach Joel Geriak. “They had a good lineup in their one through seven players. Their height on the outside forced us to drive to the basket, where we missed some layups and still had to deal with more height. We gave them too many second-chance baskets.”

He continued, “Drew Connolly played his heart out and I got everything the team had to give tonight in the attempt to win. Their effort is what they have been giving me all season and I’m proud of the hard work and their focus to be successful on the court. This team has changed the culture of basketball in this town and the town has embraced these players and the town loves this team and what they achieved.”

Notre Dame will now move on to play in the CIAC championship game for the third consecutive year.

Sean Breslin got things started for Wilton with a 3-pointer from the corner for the early 3-0 lead. The Warriors’ lead grew to 10-5 midway into the first quarter, but the Lancers closed out the opening period with a 10-3 run to hold a 15-13 lead after one.

A Matt Kronenberg bucket to open the second quarter tied the game at 15-15. Josh Reaves drained a 3-pointer for the Lancers, but Connolly answered right back with three of his own to tie the game again at 18-18 with 6:17 left in the second quarter.

Notre Dame knocked down five more 3-pointers in the period on its way to outscoring the Warriors 27-11 the rest of the quarter for a 45-29 lead at the half. Wilton turned the ball over six times in the period.

The Warriors were down as much as 18 points in the second quarter, and could only manage two 3-pointers in the first half.

The Warriors kept pace with the Lancers in the third quarter, with both teams scoring 22 points in the period, giving Notre Dame a 67-51 lead going into the final quarter.

Wilton couldn’t make a run on the Lancers and trailed by as many 23 points in the period.

With the Warriors down 16 points entering the fourth quarter and the outcome not in favor of Wilton, the team wasn’t going to go quietly or without their heart taking some more beats.

“I turned to Matt (Kronenberg) and we both agreed that we weren’t just going let them win without us putting up a fight.” said Connolly “We kept fighting to the end. That’s the only way this team knows how to play, but we just ran out of steam tonight. The loss stings right now, but maybe in a month we’ll be able to look back and see how much we accomplished as a team.

“We worked hard as a team in games and in practice and we challenged each other to make ourselves a better team. We all worked towards a common goal and we didn’t want to let each other down. This team was not about one person’s stats, it was about (doing) whatever it takes to win the game as a team. I made 14 brothers on this team and I will take away those friendships and memories from our years playing together. We learned a lot of lessons and enjoyed working hard to achieve our goal as a team.”

With the 16-point lead, the Lancers slowed the pace of the game early in the fourth quarter and the Warriors couldn’t forge a comeback.

Connolly led all scorers with 26 points to end his high school career and Matt Kronenberg had 23 points in his last game as a Warrior. Noreaga Davis paced Notre Dame with 20 points, followed by Tyler Bourne and Reaves with 17 points each.

The 81 points the Warriors gave up in the loss was the most points surrendered all season long.

Wilton finished the season with a 20-7 record overall.