NEW HAVEN — East Catholic has taken on all comers over the past two seasons and beat almost every opponent it faced.
Some boys basketball games were close, like the road trip at Bassick. Most were blowouts en route to Wednesday night’s Division I state semifinal against Trumbull.
Trumbull was dealt the same fate as most of East Catholic’s opponents, falling 86-58 at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
“These are the types of situations we train for all year,” East Catholic coach Luke Reilly said. “To come into this environment, on this stage at this time of the season, to make the adjustments necessary, all the credit goes to them.”
Said Trumbull coach Buddy Bray: “They were outstanding, running their system, executing their plays. …Whoever won the other game has their hands full on Saturday.”
Top seed East Catholic (26-1) has also beaten Windsor — its opponent in Saturday’s state final — this season and three times last season. But the Warriors are the only team to beat East Catholic in each of the last two years. Both of the losses were in the postseason: last year in the Division I quarterfinals at the buzzer in double overtime and two weeks ago in the Central Connecticut Conference tournament final.
The two CCC bitter rivals meet for round three Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Game time is 8:15 p.m.
The Eagles are heading back to @MoheganSun, as @EastCatholicHS will play for the Division I crown after an 86-58 win over Trumbull! @EastCatholicAD @Eagles_Nest #RunToTheSun #ctbb pic.twitter.com/FktBGnTR18
— CT Sports Now (@CT_Sports_Now) March 14, 2019
“It’s going to be a war. It’s the matchup that everyone wanted to see,” senior guard Jaylin Hunter said. “It’s what you play for. We are going to be ready. We lost a heartbreaker in the CCCs. I’ll be ready.”
Said fellow senior guard Joey Reilly: “We have a firm handle on what they are all about and vice versa. We just want to go out there and play our game, pout it all on the line and compete for a championship.”
— Joe Morelli (@nhrJoeMorelli) March 14, 2019
Trumbull (20-5) had the early lead against East Catholic, which then went on a 14-2 run to close out the first quarter and take a 23-16 lead.
“When you get to this point of the tournament, you make the adjustments you think are going to work, but it’s really the players who have to go out there and make the plays,” Luke Reilly said. “To their credit, they made the plays they needed to to change the momentum of the game.”
Trumbull’s Timmond Williams (22 points) scored the first basket of the quarter on a 3-pointer, but East Catholic scored the next seven points.
“Their spacing on the break was excellent and they shared the ball,” Bray said of East Catholic. “We needed to do a lot better dropping back (on defense). … Once the game opened up, I thought they were really good in the open floor.”
East Catholic shot 8 of 10 from the floor in the second quarter, repeatedly beating Trumbull off the dribble to the basket.
“We train for the highest-level situations,” Hunter said. “Once we finally saw a couple go in, we were comfortable. It’s always fun and good to be comfortable playing basketball. …We knew we had to throw things at them (defensively) just to control the tempo.”
Joey Reilly, Luke’s nephew, and Hunter scored all but 10 of East Catholic’s 41 first-half points. Both players led the winners with 24 points apiece.
‘Great win for our guys, great win for the program,” Luke Reilly said.
Trumbull, which had eliminated Sacred Heart in Monday’s quarterfinals, never got within single digits in the second half. Chris Brown added 12 points in his final game for Trumbull.
“You can’t take away from what they have accomplished as seniors,” Bray said. “Certainly we were hoping for a different turnout tonight, but you have to credit East Catholic and Coach Reilly. They are a very well-coached team. … I have a locker room full of seven seniors I am very proud of.”
This was Trumbull’s first trip to the state semifinals since 1974, the last time the program also advanced to a state championship final.
“There were three starters from the ’74 team here tonight,” Bray said. “We had a lot of nice highlights, one game, we played against a better team that beat us, but this team has accomplished an awful lot.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Jaylin Hunter, East Catholic. Senior guard Jaylin Hunter scored 24 points, ran the offense and made several key defensive plays.
“Two out of the last three years, we won 20 games. I wouldn’t trade my kids for anybody. These are Trumbull home-grown kids.” — Trumbull coach Buddy Bray
EDITOR’S NOTE: Trumbull did not win the state championship in 1974. The Eagles lost to Wilbur Cross, the No. 1 team in the nation that season.