UNCASVILLE >> The 12 seconds left in Saturday’s Class LL state championship final must have felt like hours to Fairfield Prep.
Three previous trips to the LL championship game in the past four years had ended in heartbreak for the Jesuits. But here they were again, at the Mohegan Sun Arena, now armed with a one-point lead as precious seconds ticked away.
And a team that prides itself on defense may have had its best defensive possession of the season. Westhill finally was able to get the ball to Vashon Natteal in the corner for a game-deciding 3-point attempt. He missed and Prep was finally victorious.
The 51-50 victory for the top-seeded Jesuits over No. 2 Westhill in front of 5,654 was the team’s first state championship since 1997 in front of 5,654 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“I think that was the slowest second of my entire life,” said Prep guard Tom Nolan. “I could have had tears of joy or tears of sorrow all in one second. It was just unreal. It’s still surreal. I don’t even know what’s going on.”
Said Prep coach Leo Redgate: “The boys really bought into playing unselfish basketball and really focusing on defense. … I think it’s a fitting end for a team that has had an incredible record and reputation over the last five years. They really deserve it.”
The Jesuits (25-2), the No. 6 team in the Register Top 10 Poll, had lost to Hillhouse and Bridgeport Central the previous two years.
“This feels needed,” said Nolan, who started in the last three LL finals. “If I didn’t come out with this, my high school career wouldn’t have felt as full.”
After Rich Kelly missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 25 seconds left, C.J. Donaldson (14 points) drove in for a basket to make it 51-50. Nolan was then fouled with 12 seconds left. He, too, missed the front-end free throw.
The third-ranked Vikings (26-2) couldn’t get the ball to their best player, Jeremiah Livingston, as Matt Gerics face-guarded him the entire way down. Natteal had made the 3-pointer to end the first half, but bounced this attempt off the rim.
“It’s easily the greatest feeling I have ever had on a basketball court. It’s amazing,” Kelly said. “Livingston didn’t have the ball, so I felt good about (the last possession). Then No. 32 (Natteal) got the ball and he let it go and it looked good. I got scared. It was short and a mountain came off of me. So much pressure was relieved.”
Said Westhill coach Howard White: “We had a good look, a good shot. It just didn’t fall, so the main thing to try and tell them was to keep their heads up, take it as a learning opportunity and grow from it.”
Prep played a lot of zone against Westhill and paid particular attention to Livingston. Every time he would enter the lane with the ball, he was met by two defenders. When he cut through without it, he was still face-guarded.
Livingston finished with just one field goal early in the third quarter and 12 points. He alone had 78 points in the FCIAC tournament semifinals and final.
“Ryan Foley and Matt Gerics, we told them before the game, that’s your objective. Who cares if you score a point tonight? Shut down Livingston,’” Nolan said.
Tyrell Alexander also had 14 points for Westhill, which saw its 22-game winning streak snapped.
“They have nothing to hold their heads down for,” White said. “Words can’t even explain what these kids brought to the table.”
Westhill 13 16 15 6 — 50
Ffld Prep 13 13 16 9 — 51
Livingston 1 9-11 12, Donaldson 7 0-0 14, Alexander 6 2-4 14, DelaCruz 1 0-0 2, Thomas 0 0-0 0, Natteal 2 0-0 6, Thomas 1 0-0 2. Totals: 18 11-15 50
FAIRFIELD PREP (51)
Thomas Nolan 3 3-6 12, Rich Kelly 3 5-7 12, Joe DiGennaro 2 2-2 6, Ryan Foley 3 0-0 8, Patrick Harding 5 3-4 13, Matt Gerics 0 0-0 0, John Kelly 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 13-19 51
3-point goals: Westhill 3 (Natteal 2, Livingston); Fairfield Prep 6 (Nolan 3, Foley 2, Kelly); Fouled out: Westhill (Alexander); Records: Westhill 26-2; Prep 25-2.
Updates every minute – View full tournament