It was a big day for the Fairfield Prep Jesuit’s sports programs as both their basketball and hockey teams played for state championships. The Jesuit’s basketball team was undefeated and on a roll, cruising with ease to the state championship. The hockey team had lost four games during the season and tied three, but had been turning it on of late, peaking at the right time. Yesterday the Fairfield Prep Jesuits’ two powerhouse teams each battled for glory in the state championships, but only one of the two teams came away with a win.
Prep basketball had a great season. They were undefeated during the regular season and turned in dominant performances all through the playoffs, beating each team with ease; Greenwich was the closest team to beating them in the playoffs, losing by 18 points. Fueled by senior leadership, including point guard Thomas Nolan and seven-foot, two-inch, Paschal Chukwu, the Jesuits came out firing in the first half of the championship game. Chukwu, who has committed to play basketball at Providence College next year, finished the game with 21 points, 17 rebounds and 12 blocks, his second triple double of the tournament. 17 of his 21 points came in the first half.
Their opponent, the Bridgeport Central Hilltoppers, were widely considered the best team in the Class LL outside the number one ranked Jesuits, but they were bombarded in the first half. The Jesuits outscored their opponent by nine points in both the first and second quarter, and after Nolan threw Chukwu an alley-oop dunk at the end of the half, the Hilltoppers found themselves down by 18 points going into the half. The Jesuits shot 61 percent in the firs half, compared to 34 percent shooting for Central. Everything was going Prep’s way and one year after losing in the state championship, it looked like it was finally their time. But Central had different plans.
The Hilltoppers came out in a zone defense that perplexed the Jesuits and resulted in 11 turnovers in the third quarter alone. Central outscored their opponent 28-9 in the third and took a 57-56 lead. The Jesuit’s coach, Leo Redgate, said they were expecting the press, but they turned the ball over too many times, drastically flipping the momentum. But one bad quarter of play wasn’t going to derail Fairfield Prep’s hopes of a win, as the Jesuits refused to go down without a fight and lose two state championships in a row.
The Jesuits and the Hilltoppers gave it their all in the fourth quarter, going back and forth, matching bucket for bucket. With 4:39 left the Jesuits took a three-point lead, but the Hilltoppers were denying Chukwu the ball and their zone defense never let up; Chukwu only scored four points in the second half. With 21 seconds left, Central’s Orhan Cecunjamin scored over Chukwu to give the Hilltoppers the lead, and after Central’s Tyler Ancrum stole the ball, was fouled, and made two foul shots, it only gave the Jesuits 10 seconds to answer. They drove down the court and Keith Pettway shot a three-pointer for the tie, but just missed, bouncing off the rim as the game ended. Bridgeport Central won 76-73 and handed the Jesuits their second loss in a row in the state championships.
Earlier in the day, in New Haven, the Jesuit’s hockey team played for the division one state championship. The hockey team has been a staple of dominance at Prep, winning the state championship two of the last three years and 15 total as a school. Their opponent, Darien, was coming in hot. The two teams played twice already and Darien won both games. Darien was fueled to continue their success, riding behind their excellent goal tender, Michael Colon, and a superb regular season. After Darien scored less than 10 minutes into the game it was looking like Prep would be walking away empty-handed this year.
The Jesuits trailed 1-0 after one period, but came out in a flurry in the second, shooting from all over the ice like they had an extra man. Darien found themselves playing a different team. The Jesuits out shot Darien 11-1 in the second quarter and 19-4 in the third. But Darien’s goaltender Colon was a wall, finishing with 37 saves. With six minutes and 11 seconds left in regulation the Jesuit’s Dean Lockery scored to tie the game 1-1 and resulted in overtime. It turned out to be a fairly short overtime. Six minutes in the Jesuit’s Vincent D’Amore smacked a slap-shot past Colon to give the Jesuits their third championship in four years and 16th in school history. It was a great season for both Fairfield Prep winter sports, but on the culmination of the season, there was only one Jesuits win of the two state championships.
Commentary by Chris Dragicevich