HARTFORD >> Leading by one with 2:20 to play in the Central Connecticut Conference boys basketball championship game, East Catholic freshman Joey Reilly spotted up in the corner behind the three-point line and in front of the Eagles boisterous student section, received a pass, elevated and buried a 3-pointer.
Reilly turned to the ‘Eagles Nest’ and soaked it in.
“My teammates have complete trust in me,” Reilly said. “I have complete trust in them, they get me the ball when I need it. We just have complete trust in each other — I just let it rip.”
His 21 points — including three 3s — helped East Catholic beat ninth-seeded Simsbury 54-49 to win its first ever CCC tournament championship at Bulkeley’s Babe Allen Fieldhouse on Thursday.
“He has ice in his veins,” East Catholic senior Mark Carbone said. “He’s clutch, he’s confident and he gets it done.”
The sixth-seeded Eagles beat E.O. Smith, Weaver and East Hartford to advance to the tournament finals for the first time in school history before capturing the title.
Reilly — the nephew of coach Luke Reilly — also went 6-of-6 from the free throw line. Senior Mike McGuirl scored 13 points and Carbone, a University of San Diego commit, had 10 as they were able to finally capture the elusive conference plaque.
“It’s about Mark Carbone, it’s about Mike McGuirl, it’s about Evan Manuel, it’s about Mookie Lester,” East Catholic coach Luke Reilly said. “Those guys really wanted this. They talked about it from the beginning, it was one of our goals going into the season and they’ve worked extremely hard and to see that hard work and the perseverance — all these guys stepped up during injury time and when we got back together again, we were ready.”
Reilly’s third and final 3-pointer gave East Catholic a 48-44 lead and then it was just about not letting Simsbury get an open look.
“We certainly knew the scouting report on him, tried not to give him open looks and he got a couple and that was the difference in the game,” Simsbury coach Greg Stillman said.
Out of a late timeout, Mookie Lester stripped Ralph Gilliard near mid-court, recovered the ball and demoralized the Trojans.
Simsbury senior Rayon Christie did all he could by scoring a game-high 23 points. But it wasn’t enough as the Cinderella run ended.
“I can think of a bunch of opportunities where we were right there, one bucket away from taking the lead,” Stillman said. “Maybe the game turns if you get that lead and we didn’t quite make that big basket.”
East Catholic jumped out to a 19-12 lead in the first quarter by hitting three 3s, but were then held without a field goal in the second when Simsbury closed the gap to a 21-20 Eagles advantage heading into the break.
— Derek Turner (@DCT_Sports) March 4, 2016
Christie opened up the third with a 3-pointer from the top of the key for the Trojans first lead, but Rakesh Tibby — the Eagles semi-final hero — got down low for a layup to tie it back up at 23.
Simsbury sharpshooter Luke Gorkofsky hit his only 3 of the game with 3:18 left in the third to get the Trojans back within one, but from there East Catholic went on a 7-0 run.
Near the end of the third, Reilly was forced out of the game with a cut on his hand and blood on his shorts. He got cleaned up, changed and came back a couple minutes into the fourth by breaking a 40-all tie with a 3 from the wing. His next bucket would be the one that sent the crowd into a frenzy and got East Catholic feeling like CCC champions.
“This is huge,” East Catholic senior Mark Carbone said. “But it doesn’t end now. This is one of the goals we had, but now we’re trying to get a state championship and really go out on top. This is just one of the two championships that we wanted to win this season.”
East Catholic 54, Simsbury 49
Simsbury: 12 8 12 17 — 49
East Catholic: 19 2 17 16 — 54
(at Bulkeley High School)
Connor Ahrens 0 0-0 0, Nil Alexander 0 0-0 0, Riley Shanley 0 0-0 0, Jacob Rosenberg 1 1-1 3, Rayon Christie 6 9-11 23, Ralph Gilliard 2 3-3 7, Grant Lammey 0 0-0 0, Jack Medve 4 0-0 11, Luke Gorkofsky 2 0-0 5 — Total 15 13-15 49.
East Catholic (54)
Rakesh Tibby 3 0-2 6, Joe Reilly 6 6-6 21, Evan Manuel 0 0-0 0, Mike McGuirl 6 0-0 13, Mark Carbone 2 5-5 10, Mookie Lester 1 0-0 2, Will Pineo 0 0-0 0, Matthew Veretto 0 2-4 2 — Total 17 13-17 54.
3-pointers: S — Medve (3), Christie (2), Gorkofsky; EC — Reilly (3), McGuirl, Carbone.
Fouled out: None.
Records: Simsbury 17-7; East Catholic 21-3.
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