SOUTHINGTON >> All roads to The Sun lead through Valley Regional.
In each of the last four years, Valley Regional either won a state boys basketball title, or another team had to beat the Warriors to win it. Year five is no exception.
“Maybe we weren’t expected to be here, but it’s happened again,” said Valley coach Kevin Woods at the CIAC boys basketball press conference held at the Aqua Turf Club Thursday. “Now it’s five years in a row that everything has gone through Valley.”
In 2010, Hyde Leadership beat Valley in the Class S semifinals 69-41 on its way to the state championship. In 2011, Valley Beat Classical Magnet of Hartford 70-46 to win the Class S crown.
In 2012, Waterford nipped Valley 52-50 in the quarterfinals on its way to the Class M championship. Last year, the Warriors beat Weston 52-45 to win the M title.
Come Sunday at 3 p.m., at the Mohegan Sun Arena, favored Sacred Heart of Waterbury (23-3) will take on Valley (21-6) for the Class S crown.
“Sacred Heart has high-profile players,” said Woods. “We are low-profile, but that’s OK with us.”
The Hearts, who played in the Naugatuck Valley League against Class LL and L teams like Crosby, Kennedy and Wilby, feature a huge front line. Malik Petteway checks in at 6-7, Mustapha Heron, a sophomore who’s committed to Pittsburgh, is 6-6 and Tyrn Flowers is 6-5.
“I think the NVL prepared us well for the tournament,” said Sacred Heart coach Jonathan Carroll. “We have good size. Besides the three big guys, we start Isaiah Rascoe (6-3) and Charles Fisher (6-0). We’ve pretty much gone with same lineup all season.”
Carroll said that the biggest game of the season for his 21-2 (regular season and tournament) team was the 90-82 win over Class LL Crosby on Feb. 4.
“We beat a team that was ranked No. 3 in the state at the time,” said Carroll. “With that win, we went from being a very good team to better than that. I think the kids grew up with that win.”
In the tournament. Sacred Heart blasted St. Bernard 65-26 in its opener, then escaped with a 64-62 win over Shoreline Conference member East Hampton. Its third game was a tough one over Bloomfield of the Central Connecticut Conference, 73-61.
“We believe in what we have in our league,” said Woods. “Maybe the Shoreline is a little underrated. In the last six years the league has produced five state champions and we have won two of them.”
Valley made its run to The Sun by beating Bolton 55-39, Windsor Locks 78-64, No. 1 ranked East Windsor 57-48, and capped that with a dramatic 61-57 win over SLC champion Cromwell Tuesday.
“Beating Cromwell was the sweetest feeling of my life,” said guard David Bradbury. “As happy as I am to be in the title game, I’m happier that Cromwell is not here.”
Bradbury’s running mate at guard, Jake Luster, echoed his teammate.
“It’s so much sweeter to beat Cromwell to get here,” he said.
Going into the season, Woods was faced with a major rebuilding job at guard. Gone were Jonathan Luster, Mason King and Sean Cunningham. As it turned out, the Warriors didn’t rebuild, they reloaded.
“Our biggest concern was production at the guard spot,” said Woods. “Bradbury’s development was huge. He’s a big part of why we’re here, Luster’s game grew quite a bit. He takes care of the basketball, limits turnovers and contests you on defense. His defense takes the pressure off Bradbury and [Chris] Jean-Pierre.”
“We both knew we had big shores to fill,” said Bradbury. “We put in a lot of work because we knew we had to get much better.”
Luster knew that replacing his brother Jonathan and company would be a chore.
“You really can’t replace that group,” said Jonathan’s little brother. “We just try to live up to expectations.”
Jean-Pierre is the team’s star.
“He is athletically very strong,” said Woods. “At 6-0 he’s not the tallest player, but he can play inside and outside. His ability to shoot the jumper and to go to the rim makes him tough to defend.”
Woods called Jean-Pierre his stud.
“I just think that means that coach has appreciation for and trust in me,” said Jean-Pierre. “We know that Sacred Heart is a really good team with good size. We’re just going to try and get easy baskets off our fast break and to play good defense.”
Carroll has taken nothing for chance.
“We know that their guards take a majority of their shots,” Carroll said of Valley. “We also know that Jean-Pierre is a fairly gifted athlete. But we’re not surprised by them or anybody in the S division. We watched the top four teams in the Shoreline and we always had people at their games. We know what we’re walking into.”
There will be five games Saturday at Mohegan Sun beginning with the Weaver vs. Capital Prep Class L girls title game at 10 a.m., followed by the Class M boys game between Weaver and East Catholic at 12:30 p.m. Then comes the Class S girls game between Thomaston and St. Paul of Bristol at 3 p.m., followed by the Class LL girls game between South Windsor and Lauralton Hall at 6:15 and the Class LL boys game between Fairfield Prep and Bridgeport Central at 8:15.
On Sunday, the festivities begin at 12:30 with the Class M girls title game between Morgan of Clinton and New London, then comes Valley vs. Sacred Heart boys at 3 p.m., and it all ends with the Class L boys game between Windsor and Career of New Haven at 5:30 p.m.
Who will win the Class S boys soccer championship?
No. 4 Morgan (15-2-2)
No. 6 Old Saybrook (13-3-3)
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