FAIRFIELD — If Mike Walsh was a stubborn man, his Trinity Catholic High School Crusaders and the Stamford Black Knights might still be locked in a scoreless battle right now in the their FCIAC boys basketball quarterfinal game.
Trinity has great size and likes to sag defensively toward the basket. Stamford likes to take the ball to the basket on offense. So when Stamford won the tip, the Knights decided to wait until the Crusaders came out from their shell. The Knights waited. And waited. For more than four minutes nothing happened. Not a pass, not a dribble.
Finally Walsh relented and told his players to go out and guard them. Stamford coach Zach Smith’s strategy actually worked better than expected as it took Trinity a while to get on track. But in the end Walsh’s team had too much talent, too much size and in the end, too much poise and advanced to Tuesday’s semifinals with a 42-39 victory at Fairfield Warde High School.
“(Smith) took advantage of the rules and held the ball,” Walsh said. “If the other team is better, then it’s a great strategy. It’s the first time we’ve seen anyone hold the ball like that.”
Second-seeded Trinity (17-4), which will play Danbury in Tuesday’s semifinals in Wilton, was clearly off its game. The Crusaders trailed 16-7 with three minutes remaining in the half before scoring the next nine points to tie it at halftime.
“We played them Wednesday (a 69-55 Trinity victory) and they sagged their bigs and we couldn’t get to the hoop,” Smith said. “So we just decided to make them come out and guard us. We wanted to frustrate them and we did.”
The Crusaders did indeed look frustrated, until the final two minutes of the half when they forced four turnovers to forge a tie. But sixth-seed Stamford (11-6) still managed a 33-29 lead one minute into the final quarter.
“It’s tough when your big guy (6-foot-6 Contavio Dutreil) is on the bench for half the game with four fouls,” Walsh said. “But give Stamford a lot of credit. They knocked us off our game.”
Fortunately for Trinity, talent and experience eventually won out. Dimitry Moise led the Crusaders with 15 points and 5 rebounds while Dutreil added 11 points but had just four boards.
“We hadn’t seen that all year,” Moise said of Stamford’s slowdown tactics. “Good move by the Stamford coach. That really surprised us. But eventually we got to take what they gave us and we were very confident in the fourth quarter.”
After falling behind 24-18 midway through the third quarter on Trinity’s 17-2 run, Stamford regained the lead at 33-29 early in the fourth thanks to the play of Tevin St. John (17 points, 8 rebounds) and Jaden Bell (10 points). But the Knights made one field goal the rest of the way until St. John made a 3-pointer at the buzzer after the Crusaders had gone on a 13-3 run to seal the win.
“The key for us was getting tied at the half after trailing 16-7,” Walsh said. “For a while we played poor defense and missed free throws (TC was 11 of 21 from the line). But then in the final seven minutes we turned it up a notch and showed our experience.
Stamford outrebounded Trinity 22-21 and forced 11 turnovers while committing 15. The Crusaders were 14 for 34 from the field. The Knights made 13 of 37 shots.
Danbury 83, Central 58
For more than a half Central was basically playing the talented Hatters even. But then the same old problem eventually plagued the Hilltoppers.
“Every game (point guard Fab Abramonte) gets into foul trouble and it happened again,” Central coach Barry McLeod said after his team’s FCIAC quarterfinal loss. “I don’t understand it but it seems to happen every game. We’re not the same team when he’s not on the floor.”
Abramonte picked up his third foul early in the third quarter when Central had closed a one-time 11-point deficit to two (42-40), and his fourth later in the quarter. But the No. 3 seeded Hatters (18-3) quickly saw the No. 6 Hilltoppers (12-8) in their rear-view mirror. The Hatters finished the third quarter on a 17-7 spurt to take a 59-47 lead, and four minutes later it was 73-51.
“I think Central just wore down in the second half,” Danbury coach Casey Bock said. “We were able to get some stops and steals and made some easy buckets. And then Denali (Burton) just took over.”
Burton had 18 points and 14 rebounds while Jordan Brown had 23 points and 9 boards. Javon Hernandez added 12 points and Keyon Moore had 11 for the Hatters, who made 35 of 63 shots from the field.
Zach Williams led Central with 21 points while Raj Walker had 20 points and 8 rebounds. DJ Fulton chipped in with 13 points and 7 rebounds for the Hilltoppers, who were 24 for 57 from the floor and were outrebounded 33-23.