— Kolbe Cathedral HS (@KolbeCougars) March 13, 2018
FAIRFIELD — It had been a while since Kolbe Cathedral had been in this position. The Cougars shook their early nerves and turned around their CIAC Division IV boys basketball quarterfinal on Monday.
The fifth-seeded Cougars won 67-59 over 13th-seeded Valley Regional, outscoring the Warriors 23-10 in the third quarter at Notre Dame-Fairfield.
“In the huddle, we said we don’t want to go home now,” said Anthony Senior, who scored 12 of his 28 points in the third quarter.
“We locked in and played defense.”
After a turnover-plagued first half, with 12 giveaways including four travels, the Cougars scored on six of their first seven possessions of the third quarter.
After trailing by as many as 16 in the first half, the Cougars took the lead for good at 40-38 on Senior’s 3-pointer just before the midpoint of the third.
“Our bench, we got into foul trouble, and Jason Smith came in and gave us some great minutes,” Cougars coach John Pfohl said. “Brandon Gadsden hit some shots.
“And obviously Anthony Senior was great all game. He was terrific.”
Fifth-seeded Kolbe Cathedral (19-6) is scheduled to play Wednesday in the semifinals, site and time to be announced. It will face top-seeded Northwestern (22-3), which beat eighth-seeded Lewis Mills 58-35.
The Warriors built the early lead largely without Mitch Holdmeyer, who was in early foul trouble and got his third foul just 21 seconds into the second half.
“He’s our best player. Not playing with him, to still be where we were at, that was the turning point,” Valley Regional coach Kevin Woods said.
“That definitely helped them out. They hit some big shots, too. What are you going to do?”
The Warriors had four players score in double figures. A 14-0 run gave them a 20-11 lead early in the second quarter. Ernest Jean-Pierre’s 3-pointer gave them a 34-18 lead with 2:34 left in the first half and capped a 12-0 run.
Both teams were in the middle of their deepest runs in a few years. The Cougars were in a CIAC tournament for the first time since 2014, after going 9-51 in the three years since.
“That’s one thing that’s an X-factor,” said Pfohl, who led the Cougars to two CIAC championships, departed in 2008 and returned this year.
“This was a good game for us. We found out a lot about ourselves. We trusted each other in the second half. We made that extra pass, and because of that, we got open looks instead of contested looks.”
Before this down stretch, though, they’d been at least quarterfinalists every year since reaching the 2007, including a 2008 appearance in the Class S final.
Valley Regional, which played for a championship four out of five years from 2011 to 2015 and champion in 2011 (Class S) and 2013 (M), missed last year’s tournament a year after being bounced in the Class M first round in 2016.
The Warriors finished 16-9.
“Realistically, we’re a petition away from being state champion,” Woods said. “They were supposed to be Division II. They petitioned, a Catholic school, down to D-IV. what are you going to do? We pride ourselves on beating good teams.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Kolbe Cathedral’s Anthony Senior had 12 of his 28 points in the third quarter.
“Coach has been teaching us resilience all year. We were just fighting.” — Senior
KOLBE CATHEDRAL 67, VALLEY REGIONAL 59
VALLEY REGIONAL (16-9)
Brian Tonks 0 0-0 0 Zachary Stevens 0 2-2 2 Ernest Jean-Pierre 5 3-3 14 Kevin Fasulo 1 0-0 2 Cade Ensinger 2 7-11 11 Colin Sparaco 5 0-0 12 Mitch Holdmeyer 2 1-2 5 Ben Weinstein 5 2-2 13 Totals: 20 15-20 59.
KOLBE CATHEDRAL (19-6)
Naz Vereen 2 4-8 8 Kyle Federici 3 1-2 7 Evan Coleman 1 0-0 3 Brandon Gadsden 2 0-0 6 Quinton Sneed 2 1-1 5 Taeshaun Sanchez 0 0-0 0 Anthony Senior 9 5-5 28 Justin Leigh 0 0-0 0 Demetrius Gordon 3 0-2 7 Jason Smith 1 1-2 3 Totals: 23 12-20 67
VALLEY REGIONAL 15 19 10 15—59
KOLBE CATEHDRAL 11 14 23 19—67
3-pointers: VR—Colin Sparaco 2, Jean-Pierre, Weinstein; K—Senior 5, Gadsden 2, Coleman, Gordon. Fouled out: VR—Ensinger, Holdmeyer