Eagles make it a three-peat

By Adam Betz

HARTFORD – A standing-room only crowd witnessed East Catholic capture its third consecutive CCC Tournament Championship, defeating Windsor 95-81 Thursday night at Bulkeley High School.

The win was the Eagles’ (24-0, 20-0) third over the Warriors (19-5, 18-2) this season

“It feels great. It’s extremely rewarding for the guys,” said East Catholic head coach Luke Reilly. “They’ve worked extremely hard and they are a really special group. They love each other, they are very unselfish. They love playing basketball, and they put themselves into positions like tonight. I’m thrilled for them, I’m thrilled for all of us. It’s very rewarding.”

Both teams started the game shooting poorly. The Eagles were able to jump out to an early lead, thanks to a 7-0 run late in the first.

Leading 17-13 at the start of the second, East Catholic went on a 10-2 run to start the quarter, extending its lead to 12.

Each time East Catholic would start to pull away, Windsor found a way to keep the game close. Junior Jordan Riley scored 10 of his 21 points in the quarter, but it was the Eagles that went into the locker room with a 44-35 lead.

In the third quarter, East Catholic junior Joey Reilly scored 10 points to lead his team.

“My teammates are so supportive of me,” Reilly said. “We’re so talented that on any given night, anyone could step up. And tonight, the ball just happened to keep going in for me. We have so many great guys; it’s hard to guard us with the amount of weapons that we have. When I’m feeling it, my teammates are really good about getting me the ball.”

But after Windsor Head Coach Ken Smith called a timeout with four minutes left the quarter, the Warriors came out strong. Leading the charge for Windsor was senior George Gamble, who scored 17 of his 25 points in the quarter.

An intentional foul called on East Catholic’s Jenya Medvedev game Windsor a chance to tie the game up. Tyshawn Welborn, Jr. hit 1/2 free-throws, and the Warriors turned the ball over on the ensuing inbound pass. Reilly was able to score before time ran out, giving the Eagles a 63-57 lead after three quarters of play.

Five quick points by Windsor’s Cory McKeithan to begin the final stanza cut the deficit to one.

For the first time in the game, Smith called for the press. The Warriors could never capture the lead. McKeithan’s scored 12 in the quarter, and it was his shot that brought the deficit to one again, 67-66 with over five minutes to play.

“Windsor shoots a lot of threes, they are very explosive offensively,” said Coach Reilly. “And you know they are going to go on runs. That’s all part of it. The guys were able to withstand a couple of punches, put enough points on the board, get enough stops and big rebounds we needed in late-game situations.”

In the final five minutes, sophomore Trey Hall stepped up his game for East Catholic. Hall scored seven points in the final five minutes, and grabbed key rebounds on the defensive end.

“I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” Hall said. “They were getting me the ball in big time moments, rebounding the ball too. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the win. Whatever I can do to make sure our team got the win today, I had to do.”

With the clock winding down, East Catholic sealed the victory at the free-throw line.

Reilly, who has won the CCC Title each of his first three seasons, credits those around him with the team’s success.

“It’s a great feeling. It gets better every time,” Reilly said. “It’s easy to win it with such great people around me. Our program is unmatched. Our coach is unmatched. My teammates are unmatched. It’s truly a brotherhood, and we get it done.”

East Catholic enters the Division I Tournament as the number one seed, earning a bye in the first round. They will host the winner of the Crosby/Norwich Free Academy game on Wednesday March 7.

It doesn’t matter to Hall which team the Eagles play.

“We really don’t care,” Hall said. “We’re an undefeated club, so obviously we have confidence in ourselves. So, we make sure that we prepare each and every game. And whoever wins that game, we’ll get ready for them.”

Coach Reilly knows his team needs to be prepared regardless of who they play.

“We’ve probably seen everyone in Division I already, that’s part of the process: getting out there and seeing guys. You have no control over who you’re playing, so you just have to be prepared and hope that you play well on the right nights. It’s single elimination, so you have to win one-in-a-row, and that’s what it’s about.”

For Reilly to continue his hot play, he agrees that preparation is key.

“I think we just need to keep on getting better every day,” Reilly said. “We never stop working hard at practice. We have four more games left to win. It’s a great moment celebrating right now but as soon as we step off the bus, we’ll be preparing for our home game in states.”

The potential of a fourth game against Windsor looms in the quarterfinals, but Coach Reilly isn’t looking beyond the first round.

“Our approach is take it one game at a time,” Coach Reilly said. “So that’s the farthest thing from our mind. What we’re trying to do is get in the gym tomorrow and get better. That’s what’s been magical about this group. We’re just trying to get better, we’re trying to perform our hardest and prepare to the best of our ability. And if we do that, then there’s nothing else to do. These guys have been special at focusing on that, not worrying about match-ups, not worrying about anything else. Just worrying about getting better and being good teammates. And that’s why they’re a dream to coach.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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