UNCASVILLE – It’s tough to beat someone three times in one season.
East Catholic didn’t let it happen on the biggest stage of the year as the Eagles dismantled Weaver, 87-60 at Mohegan Sun on Saturday afternoon to win the Class M championship.
East Catholic (19-6) attacked from all over the court and seemed unfazed by the Beavers press to win their state title since 1972.
“We had a lot of heartbreaking losses, one to Weaver and we learned from those losses,” East Catholic coach Luke Reilly said. “After that loss we had a month left in the season, that night we said, ‘a month from now we’ll be playing in the state championship, let’s get better’ and we got better.”
The usual suspects had solid games for the Eagles, but none impressed Reilly more than Jeff Czapla. The junior played a majority of this season on junior varsity, but was called upon to step up today and he did just that. He finished the game with 13 points and nine rebounds.
“He was playing behind two great players, he didn’t get a huge opportunity,” Reilly said. “We always kept saying, ‘Be ready when your number’s called. Jeff Czapla wanted to get better. We needed him tonight, we called his number and he killed it.”
Weaver (20-9) came out quick, just like they have been all tournament, but the tides turned when Reilly called a timeout after Josh Jones scored five quick points and gave Weaver a 13-6 lead with 4:36 on the clock in the first.
Jones finished with a team high 16 points, including two 3s.
“We have a plan, don’t forget the plan,” Reilly said to his team during the timeout. “We’re on a huge stage here, we were a little overwhelmed, maybe a little nervous and it was enough to stop the bleeding.”
From there on out, East Catholic began chipping away, before they could gain control and step on the Beavers throat.
The Eagles took their first lead of the game midway through the second quarter when Tyrell Arnum scored to make it 26-25, part of a 26-8 run. Jones answered, but then DaRon Hughey went to the free throw line making both and the Eagles started to run away, leading 42-33 at the half.
Arnum led the way for East Catholic with 26 points on 12 of 17 shooting and 16 rebounds.
Where Weaver really faltered was at the free throw line. They made 43 trips and made just 20. Mike Medlin was the only Beaver to make all his free throws, seven, finishing with 12 points.
East Catholic went to the line almost as many times, 42, making 29 shots.
Weaver had surprised teams all postseason with their tight, full court pressure, but it didn’t seem to faze East Catholic who had seen it twice already this season. Even the half court pressure that they used in the CCC title game at Central Connecticut State University versus Maloney, another ‘big court’ didn’t work today.
“Their senior point guard [Winston Morgan] really played with poise. We couldn’t wear him down,” Weaver coach Reggie Hatchett said.
Morgan finished the game with 21 points, two threes and was nine of 12 from the line.
As time wound down and the lead kept building, Weaver became out of sync. The East Catholic crowd got louder with each possession and score. The guards were getting swarmed inside, only scoring eight points in the third quarter.
“I think it became insurmountable as they started to try and get everything back at once,” Hatchett said. “We just got away from what got us here and I think that had to do with their student cheering section, the arena, everything.”
This was Weaver’s second consecutive finals appearance; they lost to Granby Memorial last year 83-81 in double overtime.
“We had a great game plan, these guys believed in it, they executed it,” Reilly said. “We knew what we had to do to win, but we knew we had to do it for 32 minutes and we were able to do it.”
This is East Catholic’s fourth state title, the other came in 1965, 1968 and 1972.
EAST CATHOLIC 87, WEAVER 60
Weaver 22 11 8 19 – 60
East Catholic 16 26 21 24 – 87
Jaecee Martin 0 3-8 3, KeAndre Fair 3 1-6 7, Chaylynn Martin 5 4-9 15, Josh Jones 6 2-3 16, Pishon Powell 0 0-0 0, Ashon Avent 0 1-2 1, Mike Medlin 2 7-7 12, Willie James 1 0-4 2, Ray Harris 0 2-4 2, Jaquan Wiliams 1 0-0 2. Totals: 18 20-43 60
EAST CATHOLIC (87)
Winston Morgan 5 9-12 21, Mark Carbone 3 5-11 11, Tyrell Arnum 12 0-0 26, Pat McPadden 2 2-4 6, John Lambert 0 3-4 3, Jay Nunez 0 4-4 4, DaRon Hughey 0 2-2 2, Andre Brackett 0 1-2 1, Khalid Thompson 0 0-0 0, Jeff Czapla 5 3-3 13. Totals: 27 29-42 87
3-point goals: Weaver 4 (Martin 1, Jones 2, Medlin 1); East Catholic 4 (Morgan 2, Arnum 2); Fouled out: East Catholic (McPadden); Records: Weaver 20-9; East Catholic 19-6.