FAIRFIELD — One by one, the seven seniors on the Wilton boys basketball team emerged tonight from the locker room at Fairfield Warde High School. Some were crying, some had tear-stained eyes, some were limping from injuries.
As each player walked into the gymnasium, you could hear the applause from the many fans who had stayed behind following the Warriors’ season-ending 81-61 loss to Notre Dame-Fairfield in the Class L semifinals.
“Some games things won’t go your way,” Matt Kronenberg, one of the seniors, said.
It all fell apart early in the second quarter, after Drew Connolly’s 3-point shot put Wilton into an 18-18 tie. The Lancers started forcing turnovers and turned them into transition baskets. In the halfcourt set, after taking a while to solve a 1-3-1 zone, they found and made open 3-pointers.
It took just two minutes for that tie to become an 11-point deficit for the Warriors, who never recovered. It swelled to 16 points by halftime and 23 early in the third quarter.
Two weeks after and two miles away from where Wilton’s conference season ended with a crushing double-overtime loss to Ridgefield in its first championship appearance, a year that will not be forgotten any time soon concluded.
“They both suck,” Wilton coach Joel Geriak said when asked if it was easier to depart a postseason tournament after a memorable finish or with the outcome decided not long after halftime. “For them, the FCIAC final game is a little bitter pill to swallow because it was a close game. Tonight they don’t want to look back and say they didn’t play hard enough. That’s what I’m worried about.”
Effort wasn’t a problem for the sixth-seeded Warriors (20-7), execution was. The Lancers got 20 points from Noreaga Davis, 19 from Tyler Bourne and 17 from Josh Reaves. They were bigger, quicker and, after the first quarter, more sure.
Connolly and Kronenberg, in memorable farewell performances, scored 26 and 23 points, respectively.
“I can’t say enough about what Krony did and what Drew did for us all year long and tonight,” Geriak said. “They just came up a little short.”
The Warriors galvanized their town for the past three months, becoming the hot ticket. They attracted hundreds of students to the Zeoli Field House on Tuesday and Friday nights and, for the past month, on the road to Warde and Fairfield University.
“We changed this town from a lacrosse town to a basketball town,” Kronenberg said. “We’ve never had a bigger following in any sport. We’ve reached 27 games, the FCIAC finals, state semis, we’ve done things that no other Wilton basketball team has done before. Despite how much it stinks right now, and despite my basketball career being over, I won’t forget March 2nd and March 16th.”
This season will not be forgotten but its full reach remains to be determined. Youth basketball games in Wilton tonight were postponed so the players could make the ride to Fairfield and follow their role models. They now have a road map to follow — quite literally.
So it is important for the future of the sport in Wilton that tonight prove not an end but a starting point. It is important that the names Kronenberg, Connolly, Breslin, Williams, Wood, Pozzi and Cote be remembered not just for the season they led the Warriors to their first FCIAC final and state semifinal in 49 years, but for the foundation built during their four years.
“We didn’t get that milestone, but despite not getting a banner or having a championship we did something that changed the entire town,” Kronenberg said. “That started with the seven seniors and the other seven guys. I hope next season they will be able to replicate what happened this year.”
Geriak, after five seasons at the school, will be the constant to help see that basketball continues to be talked about in the same way lacrosse, soccer and field hockey is in Wilton.
“These kids changed the town,” Geriak said. “To have this many kids following us and supporting us like this is not something you see every day. To have them out here cheering them on. They brought the town together and once they take a step back they will see how great a season we had.”
Years from now, it could be something much more.