NEW HAVEN >> It took nearly three minutes for Hillhouse to score in its Class LL state quarterfinal clash with visiting Ridgefield Monday.
Once the Academics found their rhythm, the game’s outcome was just a formality.
Third-seeded Hillhouse led by 13 points after one quarter and then used a stifling defensive performance to overwhelm the No. 22 Tigers in an 81-49 victory at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
The Academics (23-3) will face the winner of tonight’s contest between Danbury and Wilbur Cross in Thursday’s semifinals. Hillhouse reaches the semifinals for the second straight season and for the fourth time in five years.
But the Academics have loftier goals. Hillhouse hopes to claim a state championship for the first time since 2013. The Academics lost to SCC rival Fairfield Prep in last season’s semifinals.
“It feels good (to reach the semifinals),” Hillhouse junior Joey Kasperzyk said. “But for me, I was here last year, so it’s nothing new. I just want to get further than I got last year.”
Kasperzyk scored 12 of his game-high 19 points in the first quarter, in which Hillhouse led 17-4. Kasperzyk added six assists and five rebounds.
“That’s how we play,” Kasperzyk said about his team’s fast start. “It’s very important for us to get that.”
The Academics forced five turnovers in the first quarter on the strength of their full-court press.
“That’s what we wanted to do,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said. “The last few games that we played we actually played that defense. We tend to believe that we got fresh legs going down the stretch in the tournament. We condition for it. We just wanted to come out, put a little pressure on them and see how they handle it.”
Ridgefield (13-11) had difficulty adjusting to the Academics’ pressure and trailed 41-22 at halftime. But being unable to get off to a better start ultimately sealed the Tigers’ fate.
“What happened is: we were tentative, skittish, not sure of ourselves in the beginning,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said. “They’re so explosive that before you get your feet on the ground, now it (the lead) is 18 points, and it really stayed 18 points the rest of the game.
“The second part of the second quarter you could see a little bit of life in us, we made some shots and everything else. But at that point, the outcome is over. That’s a good team. If you want to get to the final four in the state of Connecticut, you have to come here and beat a team like that or go somewhere else and beat a team just like that. That’s a really good team. If someone is going to beat them at some point, they’re going to have to play really well.”
Brenden McNamara scored a team-high 10 points for Ridgefield. Chris Longo added nine points and Matt Bartolucci added eight points.
Christian Adams scored 15 points and had 13 rebounds for Hillhouse, while Tyler Douglas chipped in with 10 points and 12 assists.
Sophomore Byron Breland made eight of nine free throws he attempted in the second quarter for the Academics. Breland finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The Academics made 17 of 21 from the foul line in total.
“We’ve been struggling on the free throw line,” Sutton said. “To see us capitalize tonight on the foul line was big for us. Defensively that (the press) is our bread and butter, always. Like I said, (when) shots are falling, it puts us in better shape. But it really comes down to the free throws. To see them come in here with no back drop and shoot good free throws, it’s pretty much what we really focus on.”
HILLHOUSE 81, RIDGEFIELD 49
(at New Haven)
Ridgefield 4 18 15 12 – 49
Hillhouse 17 24 17 23 – 81
Matt Bartolucci 3 1-3 8, Matt Saporito 3 1-3 7, Chris Longo 1 7-8 9, Nick Laudati 1 0-1 2, Brenden McNamara 3 4-7 10, Chase Levesque 3 0-0 7, James St. Pierre 1 0-0 3, Alex Price 0 1-2 1, Zach Esemplare 0 2-2 2. Totals: 15 16-26 49
Tyler Douglas 5 0-0 10, Joey Kasperzyk 6 7-7 19, Davon Warner 2 0-0 6, Byron Breland 4 7-8 16, Christian Adams 7 1-3 15, Tyler Williams 1 0-0 2, Justin Gordeneer 2 1-1 5, Jalil Wilkerson 3 1-2 8, Dwayne Davila 0 0-1 0. Totals: 30 17-22 81
3-point goals: Ridgefield 3 (Bartolucci 1, Levesque 1, St. Pierre 1); Hillhouse 4 (Warner 2, Breland 1, Wilkerson 1); Records: Ridgefield 13-11; Hillhouse 23-3