Funny how things work out sometimes. The consensus all state tournament was one half of the Class L bracket was loaded, the other … less so.
The presumed loaded, half, where No. 1 Trinity Catholic had to eventually play successive New Haven schools proved easy, with the Crusaders mushing Wilbur Cross tonight in the semifinals at Fairfield Warde, 87-51.
We all assumed No. 3 Bunnell had a clear path to the Mohegan Sun.
Woodstock Academy proved at NFA that is wasn’t a paperchamp and a worthy No. 2 seed with 65-60 win over SWC champion Bunnell. (Game story, here.)
This was a supercharged game from the start thanks to a packed, hot, gym that was bouncing with fans from both teams. Bunnell started quick and was up 5-0 and could have made it in the 10-0, 12-0 range, but they missed a bunch of close layups — setting the tone for the night when the Bulldogs finally went cold from the perimeter.
As a school Bunnell had never been to a semifinal before, while Woodstock had only done it once when the CIAC switched from classes to the short-lived Division 1-4 set up. There were a lot of jitters throughout the night in the stands and on the court, as you might expect.
Woodstock sunk a rare 3 as time expired in the first, which seemed to change the tenor of the game, albeit it early giving the Centaurs early life and confidence.
Bunnell was down 12 in the third quarter and battled back, with Matt Nolting hitting two gigantic 3-pointers in the final minute, but in the end Wednesday it didn’t seem to be Bunnell’s night.
The Centaurs deserve plenty of credit. Ian Converse and Sullivan Gardner — who look like brothers with their Nos. 31 and 21 jerseys along with closely cropped chair — are about 6-foot-5 widebodies, or in basketball lexicon “bangers.” The best way to describe how Converse played was by calling him an animal. He wasn’t going to be denied anywhere around the rim. (And if he missed, chances are he’d get the offensive rebound.)
Bunnell’s front-line usually holds its own, even against taller opposition due to their strength. Wednesday they ran into a pair of trees thicker than them.
When Bunnelll started making a few shots in the second half, allowing its guards to press Woodstock — the Centaur backcourt turned it over a lot, which could play into Trinity Catholic’s hands Saturday in the championship game. That said, nobody in the FCIAC played an interior game like Woodstock did with it’s two relentless grinders in the paint.
Trinity has eased through its half of the L bracket, winning its four games by at least 13 points. Woodstock, based on its semifinals performance, won’t be a pushover.
Naturally it was a tough way for Bunnell to end its best season in memory.
The Bulldogs do have an SWC banner to lean on, but the stars seemed aligned for them to at least get another game and a crack at a state title. Bunnell seemed to have it all, but picked the worst possible time to have an off shooting night.
Bunnell should be solid next year with Issac Vann and Ryan Pittman — both standout talents — coming back, but the Bulldogs lose a lot in the outside shooting of Nolting and a boatload of intangibles in the forms of seniors Tim White, Adam Samuel and Claude Joseph.
To coach Pat Yerina’s credit, he made no excuses. He said the Bulldogs had a great shot once they rallied to tie the game with the ball in the final seconds for a final shot in regulation.
It didn’t work out and that’s the fine margin between a very very good season and an all-time one.