NEW HAVEN — Trumbull coach Buddy Bray, prior to tonight’s Division I semifinal game, credited a difficult conference schedule for preparing his team for a dramatic comeback and upset of Sacred Heart in the quarterfinals two night’s earlier.
But Trumbull had little in its bag of tricks against East Catholic, with the chance of reaching the state final for the first time in 45 years on the line.
East Catholic absorbed an early blow, then came out of a first-quarter timeout and scored 11 straight points in under 90 seconds, turning a five-point deficit into a 20-14 lead.
A 7-0 run to close the half gave East Catholic a 14-point advantage, and from there it coasted to an 86-58 win.
“That’s why they’re the No. 1 team in the state,” Trumbull coach Buddy Bray said. “They executed their gameplan. We got off to a good start. We stayed with them, which was big because I know they had some really big first quarters all year. I thought it was important to get through those first four minutes. They were outstanding, running the floor, executing plays, really good on the glass early.”
Not surprisingly, it was East Catholic’s trio of Joey Reilly, Jaylon Hunter and Matt Knowling who were responsible for seizing the lead and then building on it. Reilly and Hunter finished with 24 points apiece, while Knowling added 16 for top-seeded East Catholic (26-1), which will face Windsor in the final.
The two schools split their previous meetings.
“I think they’re a more well-rounded team,” said Trumbull’s Chris Brown, comparing East Catholic to Sacred Heart. “They’re very talented. They are definitely the best team we’ve seen. They knew what to do in all situations, which made it tough to come back. We knew we could hang with them but they got hot and have a lot of good players. They were hitting all their shots. It is hard to come back against a team like that.”
Down early, 4-0, Timmond Williams and Quentar Taylor led Trumbull on a 12-3 run. After an East Catholic basket, Brown went coast to coast for a 14-9 lead.
Off a timeout, Hunter scored seven straight points to give East Catholic a lead it would not relinquish.
“We had a bad turnover there and they went to 1-2-2 pressure and I thought we pressed the issue offensively when we should have showed more patience,” Bray said. “Some better shot selection. We took some quick shots and they converted. That little run there, that spurt can come early, that spurt can come late. They are a very good team.”
Trumbull, the fifth seed, finished the season with a 20-5 mark. It won the FCIAC regular season title but lost to Ridgefield, the eventual champion, in the semifinals.
The past three days was a case of role reversal for Trumbull, which had been cast in the role of favorite almost the entire season.
“We had some huge wins,” Brown said. “We battled the whole year. This is a different environment. We were the underdog the past two games, which was fun.”
Timmond Williams, who became Trumbull’s all-time scoring leader this season, finished with 22 points in his final game. Taylor added 13 points and Brown finished with 12.
But East Catholic always had an answer even as Trumbull tried to stay in the game, whether dominating the offensive boards, getting out on the break or occasionally slowing the tempo.
“We didn’t shoot particularly well,” Bray said. “We got guys attacking it on the glass and instead of three back we have two back, one back sometimes. That’s not going to be good. Their spacing on the break I thought was excellent. They share the ball. There’s three guys scoring for them consistently but they share the ball I thought very well. They didn’t waste possessions with the lead. They kind of built on it slowly.”
Though the outcome was decided early, Bray was emotional after the game, in part because the season had ended, in part because of the seven seniors who played for the final time.
Bray said there was one other element.
“A lot of people from the town came out,” Bray said. “There were three starters from the ’74 team here tonight so basketball is important in Trumbull.”