WALLINGFORD >> If anyone was capable of crashing the Class S tournament party dubbed the Sacred Heart Invitational it was going to be Shoreline Conference champion Valley Regional.
Batten down the hatches, Uncasville. Warriors Nation is heading back to the Sun.
Valley Regional stunned Sports Medicine Science Academy with one of the most improbable comebacks in Warriors basketball history, upending the Tigers, 60-58, in the Class S semifinals before a raucous crowd Wednesday night at Sheehan High School in Wallingford.
The sixth-seeded Warriors (22-5) will meet top-seeded Sacred Heart-Waterbury in a championship rematch on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The Hearts (27-0) defeated Bloomfield, 84-56, in the other semifinal.
Sacred Heart defeated Valley, 65-56, in the Class S finals a year ago. And a rematch looked like it wasn’t going to happen as the Warriors fell behind by 19 points at halftime and 20 points in the fourth quarter against SMSA.
“I told these guys at halftime that they had the heart to do it,” Valley Regional coach Kevin Woods said. “I’m just glad they didn’t have the minds to realize that it was virtually impossible to do. But they believed the whole time. I don’t know what got into them in the fourth quarter. But this is a group that will not be denied.”
Valley trailed 54-34 with 6:56 left in the fourth quarter. Then, it started raining three’s.
Warriors senior guard David Bradbury sparked a quick 12-0 run with a pair of 3-pointers and when Nash Eppard capped the spurt with a putback it was 54-46 with 4:14 left.
The No. 2 Tigers (23-4) got a pair of free throws and a floater in the lane from Ryan Rivera to lead 58-49 with 2:28 to play.
But Valley’s trapping defense gave SMSA fits down the stretch as the Warriors finished with an 11-0 run.
“When they went to their zone press and started trapping us, I think our inexperience in these types of games and situations showed up,” SMSA coach Milun Mraz said.
Warriors senior guard Chris Jean-Pierre, who had a triple-double, drained a pair of long three-pointers to cut it to 58-52, then Bradbury buried a top of the key trey with 1:40 left.
An Eppard putback made it 58-57 with 1:22 left and the Warriors regained possession after another Tigers turnover.
Bradbury, who made six 3-pointers, swished a corner trey with 24 seconds left and Valley had its first lead of the night at 60-58.
“We never stopped believing in ourselves,” Bradbury said. “There was no one else taking that shot. When I know I’m on fire I’m the only one taking that shot. When we go down, we never stop fighting. That’s Valley right there.”
SMSA missed a pair of game-tying chances in the final seconds.
Senior forward Dwayne Bernard poured in 24 points, including 20 in the first half with a mesmerizing display of alley-oops, floaters and three-point bombs as the Tigers built a 32-13 lead at intermission.
A pair of free throws from sophomore Daquan Carr gave the Tigers a 49-34 lead after three quarters. SMSA then opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer from Rivera and an off-balance layup from Mason for its largest lead at 54-34.
Rivera finished with 10 points, while senior guards Rashaun Mason and Daunte Brinkley each had eight points for SMSA.
“To lose a two point game the way we did is heartbreaking,” Mraz added. “Valley hit some really tough challenging shots. Take your hats off to them for making those big shots.”
Bradbury finished with 24 points. Jean-Pierre collected 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, while Hunter Linfesty chipped in 14 points and Eppard added seven points and 11 rebounds.
This is Valley’s third straight trip to the state finals and fourth in five years.
“We found a way to do it,” Woods added. “I don’t know how. I don’t have words for you. All I can say is I’m very proud of my guys. I love ‘em. I’m not sure what’s going to stop them. I don’t think anything.”
VALLEY REGIONAL 60, SPORTS MEDICINE SCIENCE ACADEMY 58
Valley Regional 8 5 21 26 – 60
SMSA 14 18 17 9 – 58
VALLEY REGIONAL (60)
David Bradbury 9 0-0 24, Evan Smith 1 0-0 2, Chris Jean-Pierre 4 0-0 13, Nash Eppard 3 1-2 7, Phil Dee 0 0-0 0, Brennan Joy 0 0-0 0, Hunter Linfesty 7 0-3 14. Totals: 24 1-5 60
SPORTS MEDICINE SCIENCE ACADEMY (58)
Ryan Rivera 3 1-1 10, Dwayne Bernard 10 2-2 24, Daquan Carr 1 2-2 4, Daunte Brinkley 4 0-0 8, Rashaun Mason 4 0-0 8, Jon Mikal Riley 1 0-0 2, Lorenzo Aikens 1 0-0 2. Totals: 24 5-5 58
3-point goals: Valley Regional 9 (Bradbury 6, Jean-Pierre 3); SMSA 4 (Rivera 2, Bernard 2); Fouled out: None. Records: Valley Regional 22-5, SMSA 23-4.