Boys Basketball

Commentary: State Playoffs More Than Just A Consolation Prize For Darien Boys Basketball Program

Darien's Bobby Fitzpatrick goes up for a jump shot Monday night against Westhill. (Photo: Lauren Price)

Darien’s Bobby Fitzpatrick goes up for a jump shot Monday night against Westhill. (Photo: Lauren Price)

DARIEN — When it comes to boys basketball, Darien has long been a YCWT school.

YCWT?

You Can’t Win There.

You know: just as certain programs have a tradition of winning, the opposite holds true.

Kyle Marian has been working hard to drop the C out of the acronym.

And though Monday’s 57-54 loss to Westhill — a game they could easily have won — knocked the Blue Wave out of the race for an FCIAC playoff berth, this winter has been far from a loss.

There will be March basketball in the town. Darien already clinched a state tournament berth, its first since 1994. There is a chance for the team’s first postseason win in 24 years.

Which is why Marian, a former Blue Wave player, was not crestfallen Monday night. An obstacle had been cleared.

A big one.

Westhill's Evan Skoparantzos shoots over Darien's Chima Azuonwu. (Photo: Lauren Price)

Westhill’s Evan Skoparantzos shoots over Darien’s Chima Azuonwu. (Photo: Lauren Price)

“There are more positives than the overall negative of the loss,” Marian said. “The state tournament was the ultimate goal. Coming at the end of last season, the talk was eight wins. Eight wins get you into states. I think the FCIAC is the toughest league in the state. Fairfield Prep is good, Career is good, but they don’t play in the conference we do.”

When Marian looks at how other games played out Monday night, maybe there will be a slight sting. A win would have kept the Blue Wave’s FCIAC Tournament hopes alive, turning Wednesday’s game against Stamford into something more than a tune-up.

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Marian isn’t complaining. It takes several steps to get from the basement to the penthouse.

“For this program to now say this is where the bar is set is a huge thing,” Marian said. “When I got here four years ago this is where I wanted to get to.”

Darien (10-9) got a monstrous performance from center Chima Azuonwu, who finished with 24 points, dominated the boards and either redirected Westhill shots or made players hesitant to take them in the first place.

“There was not much we could do with the big guy,” Westhill coach Howard White said. “He’s huge. What counted is what we did at the end.”

What the Vikings (14-5), who very likely will get a chance to avenge a loss to city rival Stamford in the opening round of the FCIAC Tournament, did was force 9 turnovers in the final quarter.

Jeremiah Livingston, whose slender shoulders are still broad enough to carry a team when needed, had 9 of his 23 points in the final 5:12. Evan Skoparantzos, who finished with 11, added two jumpers a minute apart to start a game-ending 7-0 run.

“That’s the thing, big-time players step up in big games,” White said. “We had to come out and play defense at the end.”

Westhill had to also withstand a last-second game-tying attempt that never should have been. The clock did not start for at least five seconds, likely more, on a Vikings possession that ended with a turnover with 12 seconds left. But it did not matter.

The Vikings will close out the regular season Wednesday against Trinity Catholic, which will miss the FCIAC Tournament for the first time since 1997 but can still claim the city title with a win.

“I like where we are at,” White said. “It doesn’t matter where we are seeded, we just have to go play.”

As for the Blue Wave, it doesn’t matter where they are seeded either.

They still get to play.