FAIRFIELD — When Tommy Barrett’s 3-point shot at the third-quarter buzzer rattled into the basket, giving Norwalk a 47-42 lead over Westhill, there was little panic on the sideline of the No. 1 seed.
In a sense, you can say the Vikings had their opponents just where they wanted them.
Westhill’s undefeated conference season to that point had been compiled not just in a steamrolling fashion. There were some blowouts, but just as many bouts with adversity. There were times the Vikings had to overcome their own mistakes, or a worthy adversary.
Friday night was the latter. With Jeremiah Livingston doing what he has done for two months, owning the fourth quarter, the Vikings (22-1) pulled away in the final four minutes for a 64-60 win over Norwalk, completing a perfect conference season that resulted in their first title since 1989.
“They’ve been doing this all year long,” said Westhill coach Howard White. “Early on we had our battles. We knew what we needed to do. We didn’t panic.”
If basketball were baseball, White would be the manager bringing in Livingston as his closer, the fourth quarter being the ninth inning.
Livingston delivered again, in spectacular fashion, scoring 13 of his 40 points, including shooting 8 for 8 from the foul line. He was named the most valuable player.
“This was a championship game so I would have to say yes, this is my best fourth quarter,” Livingston said. “We had been in this predicament plenty of times, so it wasn’t anything new.”
For good portions of the night, No. 3 Norwalk (17-6) was effective with a tightly packed 3-2 zone, with Zaire Wilson in the middle. Livingston had difficulty penetrating it.
If that were the lone way of stopping the Vikings’ magnificent guard, Norwalk might instead be celebrating the end of a long title drought. But Livingston gets points in transition and finds ways to get to the foul line, where he is automatic.
“Jeremiah Livingston is a ballplayer,” White said. “I saw this his sophomore year. There are no more Jeremiahs coming to Westhill anytime soon.”
Perhaps Livingston’s most defining play has probably already been forgotten. In the frantic finish, on the defensive end he came flying from behind to block a shot by the Bears’ AJ Jerome, though Roy Kane got the rebound and made two foul shots.
“We just had to do whatever it took,” Livingston said.
Let’s not forget Kane, a tremendous warrior in defeat with 32 points. For the first three quarters, we were watching a game of H-O-R-S-E, with teammates, between two All-State talents who have been playing against each other in AAU through their teen years.
Livingston would score on one end, Kane would respond with a long jumper, a putback or hitting Zaire Wilson alone underneath with a perfect pass.
He started the final period with two assists to Wilson sandwiched around a 3-point shot that gave Norwalk a 54-51 lead with 4:29 left.
But the Vikings went on an 8-0 run from the foul line. Kane would not go away, making four foul shots around two by Livingston that made the score 61-58 with 22 seconds left.
The Vikings kept their composure and finished off the shutout, 21-0 against the FCIAC.
“Roy’s a great player,” Livingston said. “He deserves is as much as I deserve it. Fortunately today it was me.”
Tyrell Alexander added 12 points for the Vikings and CJ Donaldson, who played a great final period, scored 8, just the support Livingston needed.
“When we started out the year we weren’t thinking about going undefeated, we were just thinking about winning games,” White said.
But when you have a superstar like Livingston, surround him with underrated talent and coach them well, the games get won.
And perfection just happens.