Boys hoop: Wilton's season ends with loss to Naugatuck (updated)

A 62-54 loss to Naugatuck in the Class L state tournament second round on Thursday not only ended the Wilton High boys basketball team's season but also the high school careers of eight seniors, many of whom have played basketball together since the fourth grade.

With all that on the line, the finale turned emotional for the players and the coaches. The seniors, a group that included the five starters, worked hard, as usual, and their final loss was not from lack of effort.

“We played our tails off tonight,” said Wilton head coach Joel Geriak, whose 10th-seeded team ended the season with a 16-8 record. “I’m very proud of this team and they will always hold a special place in my heart. These kids work hard, never quit, play with heart and determination night after night.”

Geriak knew that his team’s biggest challenge going into Thursday's road game would be holding its own in the rebounding department. But the Warriors were over-matched on the boards, and that discrepancy helped spelled defeat for Wilton.

“We knew we couldn’t jump with them; they are just too athletic," said Geriak about seventh-seed Naugatuck. "They get on your back to get control of the ball."

Naugatuck did damage on the offensive boards, converting misses into second-chance baskets. Yet, several times the Warriors fought back from deficits and trailed just 56-54 with 1:14 to play.

The game was up-tempo from the opening tip and the Warriors got out to a early 9-4 lead, compliments of Lucas Savoie. Savoie had six of those points, getting the game’s opening basket on a feed from Matt Shifrin, scoring on a one handed tip-in, and adding a fast-break basket off a steal at midcourt.

But the Greyhounds leading scorer, Jarron Chapman, who scored his team’s first six points, got the hosts going with eight points in the first quarter. Naugatuck’s Jason Bradley connected for a three-pointer with 1:55 to go in the period, to give his team its first lead at 13-12, and Wilton was forced to play from behind the rest of the game.

After ending the first quarter ahead 15-14, Naugatuck outscored Wilton, 12-4, to start the second quarter and grow its lead to 27-18. That’s when the Warrior defense began to force the Greyhounds into turnovers and the Wilton offense, led by Shifrin, began to capitalize on them.

Shifrin scored seven points as the Warriors went on a 9-0 run to tie the score at 27-27 at halftime. The only other Wilton basket came from a full-court pass to Michael Bingaman, who broke free down the court.

The Greyhounds then held the Warriors without a basket for the first 2:20 of the third quarter and held a 34-27 lead at that point. But with three minutes to play in the period, a Shifrin three-pointer got the Warriors to within one point at 38-37.

Wilton got within one again, 41-40, with 2:23 to play in the third when Richie Williams drove the lane, was fouled, and made both the basket and the free throw.

But Naugatuck got one of its many put-back baskets and a three-pointer by Dayvon Russell to go ahead 46-40. Shifrin went coast-to coast for a bucket with nine seconds left, just beating the buzzer to end the period with Wilton down, 46-42.

The Greyhounds' advantage grew to 50-44 when Chapman scored on an offensive rebound following two misses. With the Warriors down 54-47, Shifrin drained a three-pointer and attacked the basket for two points to get the Warriors within  54-52 with 2:23 left in the game.

After Bradley scored for Naugatuck, Shifrin responded with a basket with 1:14 to play to cut the Greyhounds' lead to 56-54.

But those would end up being both the final points of Wilton's season and Shifrin's superb career. With the hosts slowing the tempo and Wilton forced to foul, Naugatuck went six-for-eight from the line in the final minute of play, securing the victory.

Shifrin was the only Warrior in double figures, finishing with 27 points to conclude his carer with a program-best 1,113 points. Savoie added eight points, and Bingaman and Richie Williams added seven points apiece.

The game also included moments by Wilton players that didn't show up in the stat sheet: Richie Williams stopped three fast-break possessions by the Greyhounds, allowing his team to set its defense; Scott Shouvlin provided intensity on defense; and Miles Elmasry blocked shot at a key time.

Notes: The Wilton seniors who played their final games were Shifrin, Richie Williams, Shouvlin, Bingaman, Savoie, T.J. Savvaides, Elmasry, and Ryan Curtis.