MADISON >> Maybe the margin of victory dimmed the celebration after the Westbrook boys basketball team reached its first state championship game ever.
The top-seeded Knights dominated the second half Thursday night to beat No. 12 seed Aerospace 80-51 at Polson Middle School. But there was no sense of being just happy to play for the Class S title Saturday afternoon at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“It’s very business-like for them,” Westbrook coach Jeff Beeman said. “In the locker room, we were singing happy birthday to (senior guard) Liam Bell. We were not even talking about the game or how excited they are. No one was jumping out of their skin or banging lockers, It was very business-like, very professional, and they are convinced they are going to beat Trinity Catholic.”
Sure the Knights did celebrate their first Shoreline Conference championship two weeks ago, but they have kept a close eye on the state tournament as well. Now standing in the way is Trinity Catholic — a winner of six state championships.
“We want to play at Mohegan as bad as anybody else,” Bell said.
Aerospace (16-9), only in its third year of existence as a varsity program, was like Westbrook, playing in its first state semifinal. The Jets used their athleticism to come back from a 12-point, first-quarter deficit.
Marquis Hawkins scored 12 of his 14 points in the second quarter as Aerospace grabbed 15 rebounds in the period and grabbed a brief lead at 26-25.
Then Bell hit one of his five 3-pointers to get the lead back for the Knights for good. Bell (20 points) hit the opening basket of the second half and then Cory Muckle, his best friend and running mate since they were in grade school together, hit consecutive three-point shots. The halftime lead of five ballooned to 13, 43-30.
“We feed off each other. Every time someone makes a shot, someone else makes a shot, then we get a stop and another shot goes in and all of sudden we are up 10,” Bell said. “It’s been that way the whole year.”
Said Aerospace coach Dean Parkington: “They get going and it’s tough to stop them. Seeing them and going up against them, it’s two different things. They are by far the bet team we’ve seen all year.”
Muckle, who also hit a pair of 3s early in the fourth quarter, finished with a game-high 29 points. Westbrook shot 41 percent from three-point range.
“Of course I’d rather see 25-footers being taken,” Parkington said. “At the end of the day 25-footers for these guys are like 15-footers for the rest of us. They took and made big shots.”
Center Dave Amendola, who missed the first two games of the tournament with a back injury, contributed a double-double (17 points and 10 rebounds).
It added up to a complete performance and a sense of satisfaction for Beeman. He once coached in the state semifinals back in 2005 — while at Hand, coaching in the same gym he coached in Thursday night.
“It was hurtful (to be let go as coach at Hand),” Beeman said. “It still stings to think about it. But it is like home, 19 years of coaching here.”
Westbrook 80, Aerospace 51
Aerospace 9 21 7 14 – 51
Westbrook 18 17 19 26 – 80
Angel Dejesus 4 2-5 12, Brandon Boswell 2 0-0 4, Marquis Hawkins 6 8-9 20, Joshua Riggs 1 3-6 5, Larry Okonya 1 0-0 2, Chris Jacobs 2 3-4 7, Xavier Reid 0 1-2 1. Totals: 16 17-26 51
Phil Hartzell 1 0-0 2, Cory Muckle 10 3-4 29, Liam Bell 7 1-2 20, Austin Herzy 1 1-2 4, Dave Amendola 7 3-4 17, Matt Ossa 1 1-2 3, Jack Hayes 1 0-0 2, Nick Perregaux 1 1-2 3. Totals: 29 10-16 80
3-point goals: Aerospace 2 (Dejesus 2); Westbrook 12 (Muckle 6, Bell 5, Herzy 1); Fouled out: Westbrook (Herzy); Records: Aerospace 16-8; Westbrook 25-2