UNCASVILLE >> Raheem Solomon was getting around the Mohegan Sun Arena floor Sunday evening on crutches, a victim of a knee injury. He didn’t play a second in the Class L state tournament.
Sacred Heart was without its best player, but the Hearts rallied around that loss and completed the 2016-17 season without a loss.
The top-seeded Hearts defeated No. 2 seed Notre Dame-Fairfield 75-53 before 4,822 At the arena Sunday.
“It means a lot because when I got injured in the NVL tournament, they all came and said they would go back to the Mohegan and win it for me,” Solomon said. “That meant a lot.”
It’s the second straight year the Hearts (28-0) beat the Lancers (25-3) in the final, last year in Class M.
“A lot of people had counted us out, discounted us, I could have been counted among them,” Sacred Heart coach Jon Carroll said.
“But with every road block and every obstacle put up against my guys, they proved me wrong too. They accepted the challenge, they accepted the criticism, they left their egos at the door for the group. It’s really one of the more enjoyable coaching experiences that I’ve had.”
That performance at least leaves the door ajar for some debate over which team should finish No. 1. Hillhouse came into the tournament as No. 1 one, won LL in convincing fashion, but did lose a game to Fairfield Prep during the regular season.
The Hearts have been No. 2 all season long while Hillhouse and Notre Dame-West Haven both spent time atop the Register/GameTimeCT poll.
While that debate will be played out in the coming days, there is no debate on who holds the longest winning streak. Sacred Heart has now won 46 straight games and 83 against state competition dating back to 2014.
The last team to win four straight state championships was Harding (1983-87).
“People told us, we wouldn’t even finish undefeated. We did that,” Sacred Heart’s Courie Stevenson said. “They told us we wouldn’t win the NVL championship. We did that. We came here and won another ring. We did what they said we couldn’t.”
Among the adjustments the Hearts made when Solomon went down was to lock down defensively. Very few, if any, teams had success keeping Notre Dame point guard Tyler Bourne out of the lane.
The 5-foot-8 junior did finish with 24 points, but had just 14 after the first quarter. Three of his eight field goals came from three-point range.
“Immaculate did a pretty good job with their zone but these guys played a man to man and they were there every time we went inside. They were there on the help, they were there on the second and third pass,” Notre Dame coach Chris Watts said. “I thought the rotation they displayed on defense was very good.”
Isaiah Gaiter finished with a double-double (24 points and 11 rebounds), completing a nice tournament run for him. He led four Hearts in double figures.
Sacred Heart outscored Notre Dame in every quarter, including 24-14 in the fourth to pull away.
Watts, a first-year coach for the Lancers after coming over from St. Joseph, knows in his heart what will happen with his club next season.
“They understand the hard work they displayed this year will get the back again next year,” Watts said.
SACRED HEART 75, NOTRE DAME-FAIRFIELD 53
Notre Dame-Ffld 11 15 13 14 – 53
Sacred Heart 16 20 15 24 – 75
NOTRE DAME-FAIRFIELD (53)
Bourne 8 5-6 24, Burke 2 0-0 4, Mongillo 0 0-0 0, Davis 3 3-6 10, Reeves 5 0-0 11, Medwinter 1 0-0 2, Monnexant 0 2-2 2. Totals: 19 10-14 53
SACRED HEART HIGH (75)
Mikey West 1 1-2 3, Legend Johnson 4 1-2 10, Courie Stevenson 5 0-0 10, Omar Rowe 6 6-7 18, Isaiah Gaiter 9 6-7 24, Gaeley Etienne 1 0-0 2, Peyton Stephens 1 0-0 2, Nahzir Ivester 2 0-0 6. Totals: 29 14-18 75
3-point goals: Notre Dame-Fairfield 5 (Bourne 3, Davis 1, Reeves 1); Sacred Heart High 3 (Johnson 1, Ivester 2); Records: Notre Dame-Fairfield 25-3; Sacred Heart 28-0