MIDDLETOWN >> Vinal Tech first-year coach Matt Collins knew his team was going to face some adversity Friday afternoon against Windham Tech in the opening round of the Home Team Supply Tip-off Tournament.
The Hawks, who were coming off a tough season-opening loss at Wolcott Tech, committed a slew of turnovers through the first three quarters. And with go-to shooter Quinn Mitchell on the bench in foul trouble, things seemed downright bleak.
But Vinal Tech forced some turnovers and closed the game with a spirited 11-2 run to defeat the Tigers, 62-54, at Middletown.
The Hawks (1-1) will meet Wilcox Tech (2-0) today at 12:30 p.m. for the championship. Wilcox Tech defeated O’Brien Tech, 76-53, in the first game of the tournament doubleheader. Windham Tech and O’Brien Tech play in the consolation game (11:00 a.m.).
“I’m excited,” said Collins, a former assistant at Southington. “It was great to get the first win. We battled our butts off on Wednesday and didn’t get out of (Torrington) with a win. They saw adversity tonight and they got through it. I preached that all pregame and all yesterday at practice. “
Despite being saddled with foul trouble, Mitchell finished with a game-high 25 points. The senior guard made some big shots in the second half, including 8 of 9 free throws to seal things down the stretch.
“The first two games (Mitchell’s) filled up the stat sheet and tonight he played a complete game,” Collins said. “His shot selection was great. He got to the line when he needed to and then when he was there he finished the game for us. That’s what we look for in a leader like him.”
Hawks sophomore forward Curtis Anderson had a huge double-double with 15 points and 22 rebounds, while junior forward Deion Abrincoles scored 14 points and had five rebounds.
Freshman guard Luis Quintana led the Tigers with 20 points and nine rebounds. Junior guard Damon Vega had 12 points, while center Shane Smith grabbed eight rebounds.
Windham Tech, which led by as many as five points in the first half, had a 27-24 halftime cushion. Behind a 3-point basket from Mario Rangel (seven points) and five straight points from Quintana, the Tigers grabbed a 35-29 lead midway through the third quarter.
But Vinal Tech battled back. Mitchell drained a deep corner trey and a nifty hook shot from Anderson gave the Hawks a 40-39 lead after three.
“We had some success in the first half because (Mitchell) had three fouls,” said Windham Tech coach Jeff Belanger. “When he was out of the game I knew we had to take advantage of that and we didn’t take enough advantage of it.”
The game see-sawed early in the fourth quarter. Tied at 46, Mitchell was fouled while taking a 3-pointer and sank all three four shots for a 49-46 lead.
Smith and Quintana sandwiched putbacks between a pair of Anderson free throws to give the Tigers a 52-51 lead with just 1:29 remaining.
But Vinal senior guard Anthony Gage-Smith banked in a 15-foot jumper and the Hawks were off and running. Anderson finished a driving layup off a Windham turnover and after Vinal forced another turnover Abrincoles fed Anderson for another layup and a 57-52 lead.
“We’re a young team and they’re going to make those mistakes late in games when the pressure’s on,” Belanger added.
Mitchell then iced it with four straight free throws.
“He was money from the foul line,” said Belanger. “He’s a very good player. He helps make everybody on that team better too.”
Said Collins: “The sky’s the limit with these guys if they hustle and play hard. We turned a tough game into an eight point win and something like that shows what this team is all about.”