— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) March 11, 2017
MANCHESTER >> The Fairfield Prep student section’s attempt to razz East Catholic senior guard Mike McGuirl was all for naught.
That’s because with four minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Class LL state quarterfinals inside the sold out Rev. Robert Saunders Gym at East Catholic High School, the Kansas State commit threw down one of those dunks that impresses even the opposition.
McGuirl — who scored 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter — threw the Eagles on his back scoring six of eight points including that dunk straight down the lane, over two Jesuit defenders, and thrusting the Eagles into the Class LL semifinals with a 66-48 win on Friday.
“I saw a lane,” McGuirl said. “I attacked and I saw an opportunity to hammer it. So, I just did it.”
East Catholic will play in its fourth-straight state semifinal when it walks onto the court vs. Hillhouse on Tuesday at a time and site to be determined by the CIAC. Last season the Eagles won the Class L title and in 2014 and 2015 they competed in Class M, winning the 2014 championship.
Hillhouse, the No. 2 seed in Class LL and No. 1 team in the GameTimeCT/Register Top 10 poll will be the highest ranked team the Eagles have played this year. East Hartford, South Windsor and Weaver have all been ranked this season and East Catholic has beaten them all.
“You get to this point in the LL tournament,” East Catholic coach Luke Reilly said. “You know they’re going to be good. We’re guaranteed 32 more minutes of basketball and we’re going to prepare as hard as we can and go out and play the game.”
Matt Veretto led East catholic with 20 points while Joey Reilly added 16 to go with McGuirl’s 16.
Pat Harding scored 15 for Fairfield Prep.
But about that dunk — it came exactly when East Catholic needed it.
The Eagles built a strong lead in the first half beginning with a flurry of 3-pointers from Joey Reilly, Matt Veretto and Jamil Hornsby to go up 10-2. Reilly’s second 3 of the game with 3:02 left in the second quarter gave East a 24-10 lead.
“We just came out of the gate and we were 0-10 from 3-point range,” Fairfield Prep coach Leo Redgate said. “You’re down 15 or 16 at halftime against a really good team, that was the game.”
East Catholic took a 29-14 lead into the half and kept a double-digit advantage throughout the third.
As the fourth quarter began, Prep tried to make a move.
John Kelly sunk two free throws and, after McGuirl made one of two, Harding made a corner 3-pointer to get within 42-34 with 7:25 remaining.
But McGuirl knew it was time.
“This is my last time I’ll ever play in this gym,” McGuirl said. “I needed to end on a good note. I think my teammates needed me and I tried to step up and I did the best I could.”
First he isolated himself on the right side and blew past his defender on the baseline for a layup. Then he saw an opening at the top of the key and did the same thing for two more points. After Hornsby got a steal and a transition layup McGuirl had one more trick up his sleeve.
He got a running start, took a feed from Hornsby and took flight.
Harding and Robert Haskins got an up-close-and-personal view of the slam, but true to McGuirl’s form he just jogged back on defense.
“He’s a special player,” Reilly said. “He leads this team in so many different ways. Your team sometimes takes on the personality of some of your more dominant players and he’s an unselfish kid. When it was his time to shine he was ready and he exploded.”
Prep hung around for the next few minutes getting within 11. But East Catholic made 14 of 17 free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
“I think we did a good job of handling any type of resistance they gave us,” McGuirl said.
East Catholic 66, Fairfield Prep 48
Fairfield Prep 6 8 15 19 — 48
East Catholic 14 15 12 25 — 66
(at Rev. Robert E. Saunders Gym)
Fairfield Prep (48) — Finn Duran 0 0-0 0, Philip Vlandis 3 0-0 7, Sean O’Leary 0 0-0 0, John Kelly 4 4-4 12, Andrew Rothe 0 0-0 0, Mitchell Savoca 1 0-0 2, Brian Noone 1 0-0 2, Pat Harding 5 4-9 15, Robert Haskins 4 2-3 10 — Total 18 10-16 48.
East Catholic (66) — Mike McGuirl 5 6-8 16, Joey Reilly 5 3-6 16, Jamil Hornsby 3 0-0 7, Rakesh Tibby 1 2-4 4, Matt Veretto 6 7-8 20, Josh Menard 0 0-0 0, Trey Hall 1 1-1 3, Will Pineo 0 0-0 0 — Total 21 19-27 66.
3-point goals: Fairfield Prep 2 (Vlandis, Harding); East Catholic 5 (Reilly 3, Hornsby, Veretto).