SHELTON >> Fairfield Prep guard Tommy Nolan fouled out of Tuesday’s Class LL state semifinal with 2:29 left in regulation. The Jesuits were on the brink of elimination.
Nolan, a senior, relayed one last message to teammate Rich Kelly before play resumed.
“When I fouled out, I went to Richie and said, ‘I lost at (the) Mohegan (Sun Arena) twice. Don’t let me and our other seniors end our careers like this,’” Nolan said.
Kelly helped top-seeded Prep rally to force overtime, then hit all six free throws he took in the extra session to help the Jesuits eliminate No. 5 seed Hillhouse 59-57 before 1,800 at Shelton High.
“We were definitely battle-tested coming into this game. Looking back, that helped us,” said Kelly, who made just one field goal, but 14 of 17 from the line to finish with 17 points.
Prep (24-2) advances to its fourth final in the last five seasons. The Jesuits now will face No. 2 seed Westhill at the Mohegan Sun Arena Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
“We will try to play Prep basketball, not do anything different. Hopefully, we will come to play and we get that win we always wanted,” Nolan said.
Prep lost its last three trips to the finals to St. Joseph (2011), Hillhouse (2013) and Bridgeport Central last season. That victory by the Academics was the last time they have beaten the Jesuits, who have now won seven straight in the rivalry.
“Our mission is to get to the championship game,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said. “I think our kids played as hard as they could possibly play.”
The most interesting thing about Tuesday’s victory was Prep never led in the second, third or fourth quarters. Ryan Foley’s bank shot tied it at 48 with 1:06 left in regulation. Hillhouse held for the last shot, but never got it off: Pat Harding stole a pass in the final seconds.
“I was hoping to get a foul called. It didn’t go that way,” Sutton said. “I thought we got a fair shake (on the foul calls). At the end of the day, the foul line was where the game was decided.”
Said Prep coach Leo Redgate: “I’ve seen their four corners for five years straight now. … I knew down six with 5 minutes left (it would happen). That’s one of the reasons we started to foul.”
Prep put Hillhouse (21-5) on the line down the stretch and the Academics missed half of its 16 missed free throw attempts in the fourth quarter (14 of 30 overall).
“The free-throw line gave the game away,” Sutton said. “You can’t win championship games, you can’t win big games if you can’t make free throws.”
Prep grabbed its first lead, 51-49 with 1:59 left in overtime on a pair of free throws. The Jesuits never relinquished the lead. Hillhouse missed its first seven shots in the extra session.
Although Prep missed 16 free throws as well (30 of 46), the Jesuits hit their last 11 in overtime.
Isaiah Lewis hit a pair of baskets for Hillhouse in the final seconds, the last just before time ran out on the Academics’ season.
Prep climbed back into the game by outscoring Hillhouse 12-2 in the third quarter.
FAIRFIELD PREP 59, HILLHOUSE 57 (OT)
Hillhouse 17 16 2 13 9 – 57
Fairfield Prep 14 8 12 14 11 – 59
Darius Griffin 1 2-2 4, Dontell Glover 1 0-0 2, Joey Kasperzyk 2 5-14 9, Troy Walters 3 2-5 11, Tyler Douglas 0 1-3 1, Christian Adams 1 3-4 5, Isaiah Lewis 7 0-0 14, Byron Breland 1 0-0 2, Chauness Johnson 0 0-0 0, Aaron White 4 1-2 9. Totals: 20 14-30 57
FAIRFIELD PREP (59)
Matt Gerics 1 3-6 6, Thomas Nolan 4 5-7 13, Rich Kelly 1 14-17 17, Joe DiGennaro 0 1-4 1, Ryan Foley 2 2-2 7, Patrick Harding 4 4-8 12, Bobby Hoskins 1 1-2 3, Allen Gibson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 13 30-46 59
3-point goals: Hillhouse 3 (Walters 3); Fairfield Prep 3 (Gerics 1, Kelly 1, Foley 1); Fouled out: Hillhouse (Walters. Douglas, Glover); Fairfield Prep (Nolan, DiGennaro); Records: Hillhouse 21-5; Fairfield Prep 24-2