STRATFORD >> Issac Vann is the first player everyone thinks of when you mention the Bunnell boys’ basketball team and for good reason: he torched St. Joseph for 28 points Monday night.
But the game’s most important play came from two of his teammates late in the fourth quarter.
Guard Ryan Pittman grabbed an offensive rebound and fed fellow junior Donte Peeler with a behind-the-back pass under the basket. Peeler, made the layup, was fouled and the ninth-seeded Bulldogs held off No. 24 St. Joseph 74-68 in the Class L opening round at a sold-out Bunnell High School (1,100).
“Ryan Pittman had the key, stud rebound,” Bunnell coach Pat Yerina said. “He did that in our SWC tournament the other night, a huge rebound putback.”
Said St. Joseph coach Chris Watts: “Pittman is one of the best point guards in the state and Issac Vann is one of the best players in the state. They are not just a two-man show. They have guys rebounding the ball, putting the ball back. We couldn’t compete with them on the boards.”
Right after that key play, Jon Dzurenda, who kept St. Joseph (10-11) in the game with a game-high 33 points, picked up a technical foul. Peeler completed his three-point play, and Pittman hit both free throws for the technical to move the lead to 69-59 with 3:11 left.
“The explanation was one of my guys didn’t agree with the call, and he told the ref he didn’t agree with it, and he banged him and rightfully so,” Watts said. “I tell my guys, ‘I talk to the refs. You guys don’t talk to the refs.’”
The Cadets made one last brief run, cutting it to 71-66 on a 3-pointer by Arkel Ager (14 points). with 1:16 remaining. But the Bulldogs (19-5) kept hitting free throws and the two-time South-West Conference champions advanced to the second round.
Bunnell, a Class L state semifinalist last season, will meet another L semifinalist from a year ago, No. 8 Wilbur Cross, in the second round Wednesday at New Haven. Game time is currently set for 6:30 p.m.
Cross plays a lot like St. Joseph and Bunnell, so another up-tempo game is expected.
“(Cross) will go up and down. It will be a tough matchup,” Yerina said. “If we can score, we will be all right.”
Pittman and Peeler had 16 and 14 points, respectively, for Bunnell, which took the lead for good midway through the first quarter.
The Cadets were also hit with another technical foul — for hanging on the rim — and both of its big men, Erick Langston and Steve Hashemi, fouled out. Yet St. Joseph managed to stay within striking distance until the final minute.
“My guys fought all the way to the end,” Watts said.
Bunnell’s largest lead was 16 points.
BUNNELL 79, ST. JOSEPH 68
St. Joseph 12 20 17 19 – 68
Bunnell 23 18 15 23 – 79
ST. JOSEPH (68)
Raekwon Reid 4 0-2 10, Jonathan Dzurenda 12 7-10 33, Connor Gallagher 0 0-0 0, Arkel Ager 5 3-4 14, Erick Langston 2 3-5 7, Joe Mangiamele 1 0-0 2, Steve Hashemi 1 0-0 2. Totals: 25 13-21 68
Ryan Pittman 4 6-8 16, Kendell Streeter 1 1-2 3, Justin Townsend 4 2-3 11, Quadry Bines 0 0-0 0, Issac Vann 9 6-10 25, Donte Peeler 5 4-5 14, Aaron Samuel 4 2-2 10. Totals: 27 21-30 79
3-point goals: St. Joseph 5 (Reid 2, Dzurenda 2, Ager 1); Bunnell 4 (Pittman 2, Townsend 1, Vann 1); Fouled out: St. Joseph (Langston, Hashemi.); Records: St. Joseph 10-12; Bunnell 19-5
Notes: Technical fouls: Dzurenda, Ager.