STAMFORD—They saved the best for last. And saved their season in the process.
Jay Jaudon scored on a pair of drives down the lane in the final 30 seconds to give No. 10 ranked Stamford High School an improbable 48-47 victory over No. 23 seed Northwest Catholic High Tuesday night at SHS’ Paul Kuczo Gym in the first round of the Division II boys basketball state tournament.
The triumph means that Stamford (14-8 overall) will travel to battle No. 7 seed Bunnell High School Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in Stratford.
Bunnell had ousted No. 26 seed Ledyard last Monday night.
It was a fantastic finish for Stamford. The Black Knights led 44-42 with 4:55 left to play and began to milk the clock on each offensive possession.
However, the shots would not fall. Northwest Catholic, which ended its season at 9-12, saw freshman Matt Curtis (game-high 18 points) score off a steal. Then 6-foot-6 Gary Ragland Jr. added a rebound hoop and free throw to lift the Lions to a 47-44 edge with 1:57 left.
However, Stamford decided its didn’t want its season to end.
The SHS press forced a turnover as Jaudon (eight points, all in the second half) drove fearlessly to the rim for 47-46 with :30 to go.
“At the end we went to our diamond press. Northwest Catholic had not seen it the entire game,” Stamford coach Zach Smith said. “(Tyheim) Burgess made a great steal and an even better pass to Jaudon to get the final turnover.”
“I didn’t want to put the basketballs away and go home. We all wanted to keep the season going,” said Burgess, who finished the evening with a team-high 15 points. “I knew what I had to do.”
And so did Jaudon, who soared to the hoop and drew a goaltending call on NW Catholic for the winning basket with 11 seconds remaining.
“It was a huge edge playing at home tonight,” Jaudon said. “We only lost one home game all season in this gym. I was focused on the basket on the last drive. NW Catholic wasn’t going to stop me from finishing.”
Still fighting the Stamford press, Northwest Catholic could not get off a final shot. That left the Lions with a long bus ride home.
Northwest Catholic missed all four free throws in the final 1:41 and was just 3 of 13 from the charity stripe in the second half.
“The end of a season always stings in the moment,” said NW Catholic coach John Mirabello, in his 32nd year of coaching. “If losing a basketball game is the worst thing that ever happens in these kids’ lives then they will have had pretty good lives. We should grit to climb back into the contest (Stamford led 37-29 late in the third quarter). We just couldn’t finish it.”
Because it didn’t qualify for the CCC playoffs, Tuesday night was Northwest Catholic’s first game since February 18.
“You work and work and work on free throws. You put the effort in but sometimes they don’t go in,” Northwest Catholic coach Mirabello said. “Turnovers hurt us just as much. Stamford made the plays it had to down the stretch.”
And so, Stamford faces the challenge of battling Bunnell.
“Max Edwards of Bunnell is one of the best players in the state,” Stamford coach Smith said. “And Bunnell was its league champion. We have our work cut out for us. We will give it our best shot.”