Boys hoops: Warriors battle Notre Dame tonight looking to advance to state finals
The Wilton High boys basketball team is one victory away from making the state finals for the first time in program history.
Standing in the Warriors’ way is a Notre Dame-Fairfield squad that is no stranger to this stage. The Lancers are trying to reach the championship game for the third straight season.
The two teams will decide the matter tonight at 7 when they meet in the Class L semifinals at Fairfield Warde High School. The winner will advance to the championship game on Sunday at 5:30 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.
“The kids are ready. They can see the final game in sight,” said Wilton head coach Joel Geriak. “They know it’s going to be new boundary for them, and their goal is to get to Mohegan, just like it is for Notre Dame.”
Second-seeded Notre Dame, out of the South-West Conference, enters the game with a 24-2 record, after a 78-51 win over E.O. Smith in the quarterfinals. The Lancers ended the regular season ranked sixth in the state in both the GameTime CT and Hartford Courant polls.
Sixth-seeded Wilton (20-6) held off Crosby in the quarterfinals, 65-61. It was a historic win for the Warriors, marking both the first time they’ve reached the state semifinals and the first time they’ve won 20 games in a season.
It’s been a season of milestones for Wilton, which also reached the FCIAC championship game for the first time in program history.
In Notre Dame, Wilton faces a quick team that likes to push the pace and pressure the ball, and that can pound the offensive glass.
“They’re a very quick team. They’re very similar to us. They want to run and play uptempo. They can shoot the three,” said Geriak, adding that the Lancers will try to trap, force turnovers and turn them into points. “Their game is predicated on defense.”
The Lancers graduated their top three scorers from last year’s team that lost in the Class M finals to Sacred Heart of Waterbury, 101-49. The lineup has been bolstered by the addition of two transfer students, Tyler Bourne and Josh Reaves.
Bourne, a 5’8” junior point guard who transferred from Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, is the motor that makes the Lancers go, and one of the state’s quickest players. In the team’s quarterfinal win, he had 19 points and 12 assists, and hit six 3-pointers.
Reaves, a 6’2” sophomore, transferred to Notre Dame from St. Joseph-Trumbull. He had 16 points and 11 rebounds in the team’s first-round win over New Fairfield.
Noreaga Davis, a 6’4” senior swingman, is a key weapon for the Lancers who can score inside and hit the three. Davis finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds in the first-round win.
Senior guard Anthony Mongillo is another threat from beyond the arc. The Lancers drained 14 3-pointers in their 88-62 win over Bunnell in SWC title game; Bourne and Mongillo each had five.
Notre Dame also has good size inside with Davis, Reaves, 6’5” senior center Colin Burke and 6’4” junior forward Damion Medwinter.
Notre Dame’s first-year head coach, Chris Watts, is quite familiar with Wilton — he was head coach at St. Joseph-Trumbull the previous four seasons, playing in the FCIAC.
“He knows what I’m going to do and I know what he’s going to do.” said Geriak.
The Lancers lost to Fairfield Warde, 71-54, in December, and then won 17 straight games before losing in the regular-season finale, 72-71, to Brookfield — which is now in the Class M state finals.
In the state playoffs, the Lancers have defeated New Fairfield, 69-53; Career Magnet, 62-59, in overtime; and E.O. Smith, 78-51,
Wilton has beaten Woodstock Academy, 73-35; Newington, 64-57; and Crosby, 65-61.
Wilton has won its three state playoff games despite losing two starters, seniors Jack Williams and Jack Wood, to injury before the start of the tournament.
Senior guards Matt Kronenberg and Drew Connolly have continued to play at a high level. Kronenberg, who has averaged 17 points per game in the tourney, scored 16 points in the win over Crosby. Connolly had eight points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with 40 seconds left. He is averaging nearly 11 points per game in the playoffs.
Wilton’s deep bench has been key to its a playoff run, and to its ability to overcome the loss of two key players.
The Warriors got a big lift on Monday from Kyle Maatallah (15 points, three treys), Sean Breslin (11 points, three treys) and Nick Kronenberg (eight points, two treys). Maatallah has averaged 10 ppg in the tournament, while Breslin and Nick Kronenberg have both averaged about nine ppg in the three wins.
Wilton drained 12 3-pointers on Monday, and is averaging 13 treys per game for the tournament. The Warriors have seven players who have hit at least 10 3-pointers this season — the Kronenbergs, Connolly, Breslin, Maatallah, Scott Cunningham and Joe Pozzi.
Inside, 6’3” junior Robbie Hermann came up big on Monday with two fourth-quarter baskets and — in the play of the night — a tough offensive rebound and assist to set up Connolly’s game-winner. He will be tasked with manning the middle along with 6’1” junior Kyle Shifrin.
Two sophomores, Ryan Phillips and Ryan Schriber, have also played key minutes off the bench, primarily as defensive players.
The winner of tonight's game will play the winner of the other semifinal, Sacred Heart or Middletown.
For team rosters and season results for both teams, go here.