SHELTON >> Fairfield Prep was having its way with Hillhouse, leading by 18 points late in the third quarter of the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament final.
Then the Academics’ comeback began. They whittled away at the Jesuits’ lead, fouled out guards Rich Kelly and Matt Gerics and climbed to within one point. But Hillhouse never did draw even.
Robert Haskins grabbed the last rebound, hit the outlet man and time ran out on the Academics. No. 2 seed Fairfield Prep held on for the 66-63 win over top-seeded Hillhouse before a sellout of 1,500 people at Shelton High.
“I came down with the rebound and two guys came down right in front of me and I held it tight,” Haskins said. “I thought they were going to hit my arm and I was going to go shoot (free throws), but they didn’t, Nobody was guarding Wiil (Lucas, at midcourt), so I threw it to Will.”
It was the second SCC title for the Jesuits (22-1), who made their fourth straight appearance in the final. Hillhouse (20-3) was searching for what would have been its record seventh league championship.
The Academics also saw their 19-game winning streak come to an end.
“I don’t think we played with any energy at all in the first half,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said. “We played hard for the last 5 minutes of the game and still doesn’t add up to a W if you don’t make free throws. Once again, we had free-throw woes and it cost us again.”
Prep led 45-27 with under a minute left in the third quarter. Kelly, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and Gerics both already had four fouls.
Gerics fouled out with 6:44 left. Kelly managed to stay in until there was 1:38 left and Prep leading 62-55.
“When I came out I told Pat (Harding) this is going to be the longest minute of my life,” Kelly said. “When we were coming out of the timeout, I told them I believed in all of them and wouldn’t rather have anyone else on the court.”
At that timeout with 1:06 left, Prep led 64-61. No one scored again until Byron Breland III (game-high 18 points) made two free throws to pull Hillhouse within one with 32.7 seconds left.
Then Prep broke Hillhouse’s pressure and Senay Bellete hit a layup to put the Jesuits back up three. Hillhouse had a couple of looks at a three to tie, but missed. Haskins grabbed the rebound and got off the outlet pass to finally end it.
“We came out missing shots and we were still missing shots down the stretch,” Breland said. “We almost came back, but almost doesn’t count.”
Said Haskins: “This gives us confidence going into the (Class LL state) tournament, so we know that when we are in a situation just like that, first round, second round or, fingers crossed, Mohegan (for the final), we are going to be able to come out and win because we have been battle-tested just like this.”
Hillhouse made a nice comeback, but did most of its work on the offensive glass (27 offensive rebounds, 47 overall). The Academics shot just 2 of 22 from three-point range and 15 of 28 from the free-throw line.
Ironically, Hillhouse shot 14 of 30 from the line in its last postseason loss – last year’s Class LL semifinals to Fairfield Prep – at Shelton High.
“If we make five of them, we are not having this conversation,” Sutton said. “It’s not so much the 3-ball as it is missing with the time not moving. And we had opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to capitalize and we didn’t.”
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Prep won despite not having forward Harding, who reinjured his right ankle on the opening possession of the semifinals against Wilbur Cross Monday night.
All of those missed opportunities by Hillhouse overshadowed Prep’s eight turnovers in the fourth quarter as Hillhouse turned up the defensive pressure, especially with the Jesuits in foul trouble.
“We would have made them pay more for their pressure (defense) but we didn’t have the answers because they were all sitting on the bench,” Prep coach Leo Redgate said.
Five players reached double figures for Prep, four for Hillhouse.
Players and coaches from both sides felt it could be inevitable for a fourth matchup between the two SCC titans. The only way that could happen is in the Class LL final at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“I told every single one of them (Hillhouse players), ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we played in the finals,’” Redgate said. “It would be good for basketball.”
FAIRFIELD PREP 66, HILLHOUSE 63
Fairfield Prep 17 9 19 21 – 66
Hillhouse 11 7 12 33 – 63
FAIRFIELD PREP (66)
John Kelly 4 1-1 10, Senay Bellete 4 0-0 11, Bobby Haskins 4 5-7 13, Rich Kelly 3 5-6 12, Matt Gerics 3 0-0 8, Drew Rolapp 0 0-0 0, Philip Vlandis 3 3-3 10, Will Lucas 1 0-0 2, Brendan Carry 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 14-17 66
Joey Kasperzyk 3 5-10 11, Tyler Douglas 3 0-0 6, Christian Adams 5 1-2 11, Tyler Williams 0 0-0 0, Byron Breland 5 7-12 17, Ranal Dale 2 1-1 5, Davon Warner 0 1-3 1, Jalil Wilkerson 5 0-0 12, Chauness Johnson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 15-28 63
3-point goals: Fairfield Prep 8 (Kelly 1, Bellete 3, Kelly 1, Gerics 2, Vlandis 1); Hillhouse 2 (Wilkerson 2); Records: Fairfield Prep 22-1; Hillhouse 20-3
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