WILTON — Could there be a more defining act for the Wilton boys basketball team this season than an unsung player making an overlooked play to help win a game?
In the latest chapter, the player was Robbie Hermann, the act was an offensive rebound and the result was a 3-point shot by Drew Connolly with 45 seconds left that provided the eighth and final lead change in 3 1/2 minutes and propelled the Warriors to a 65-61 win in the Class L quarterfinals.
“If you could pick one play to describe the season, that was probably it,” said Connolly, one of five remaining healthy seniors for the Warriors. “Robbie working his (butt) off to get that second-chance rebound and then getting the 3 to put us up by two. That’s what Wilton basketball is all about.”
The Warriors are headed to the Final Four and will face second-seeded Notre Dame-Fairfield Wednesday night at Fairfield Warde.
“The kids made a pact before the tournament not to lose any home games,” Wilton coach Joel Geriak said. “I don’t know if we expected three of them but we expected two of them. As you go along you could see confidence building from game one to game two.”
The No. 6 Warriors (20-6) have rebounded from a crushing double-overtime loss to Ridgefield in the FCIAC championship, playing without two of their senior leaders, Jack Williams and Jack Wood, who suffered season-ending knee injuries in the tournament.
Wilton had to again summon resolve tonight, as No. 14 Crosby, with the return of Jeremiah Kendall off the bench after picking up his fourth foul, overcame a 10-point third-quarter deficit to tie the game at 51-51 on Tarique Foggie’s 3-point shot with 4:44 left.
Hermann scored to put Wilton back on top, and then the teams traded baskets in an enthralling version of “can-you-top this?” The teams scored on alternating possessions, with a runner by Markeese Days putting Crosby up, 61-60, with 1:44 left.
Enter Hermann. After a miss by Kyle Maatallah, the 6-3 Hermann grabbed the rebound and kicked the ball out to Connolly, who responded with the Warriors’ 12th 3-point shot. After a Crosby miss, Matt Kronenberg secured the win with two free throws with 8.4 seconds left.
“That’s the way we’ve been playing this year,” Geriak said. “Our big kids have bought in to boxing out and being physical. Basic Wilton basketball. We sometimes make things hard on ourselves but we come out with a win.”
Kronenberg again was the Warriors’ leading scorer, with 16 points, and the team continued to get an important scoring contribution from a supporting player to compensate for Williams’ absence. Tonight it was Maatallah, who finished with 15 points.
“He’s the best finisher on this team,” Connolly said. “He finishes shots that have no business going in. We wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are without him.”
Sean Breslin added 11 points in one of the Warriors’ most balanced postseason efforts. Connolly and Nick Kroenenberg finished with 8 points apiece.
Miguel Rivera scored 18 points on six 3-point shots for Crosby. Kendall added 13.
Wilton got as many open looks from behind the 3-point line as they have all season, using rapid ball movement to exploit the Bulldogs’ zone.
“We’ve seen it with all three teams we’ve played so far, they’ve given us different varying 2-3 looks and that’s our bread and butter,” Connolly said. “We find open guys and those are looks we are going to hit more often than not.”
This was the season the Warriors broke from being the FCIAC’s lovable climbers into a legitimate title threat, and reached the final for the first time. They have galvanized their community with the biggest student fan base in the area.
Now, in Geriak’s fifth year, the Warriors are one step away from their second trip to a final in just over two weeks.
“That’s just the mindset that Joel’s brought to the program,” Geriak said. “We were perennial bottom feeders before he got here. He changed the complete culture. We bought into his system. You saw in the FCIAC playoffs obviously nothing comes easy for us, but when shots are falling our way at the end of games we usually get a good feeling and we’re confident we are never out of games.”