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East Catholic Advanced to Division I Finals with Dominant Performance against Trumbull - TheSportsDept.com

East Catholic Advanced to Division I Finals with Dominant Performance against Trumbull

East Catholic Advanced to Division I Finals with Dominant Performance against Trumbull

By Danny Atkinson

NEW HAVEN – East Catholic has gotten off to multiple slow starts against quality opponents in conference tournament play before taking control as the game goes on, with examples being their Division I tournament win against Simsbury on Monday and their CCC tournament wins against Berlin and Farmington. In Wednesday night’s semifinal game at Hillhouse against No. 5 Trumbull, the players immediately recognized the adjustments needed to be made on both sides of the ball after falling behind by five six minutes in and turned things around.

Senior guards Jaylin Hunter and Luke Reilly found their shooting touch and scored 12 points in the final two minutes of the quarter to lead a 14-2 run, with the defense making necessary adjustments and ramping up their pressure on the Golden Eagles.       

After the top-seeded Eagles took control to establish a 23-16 lead after one, they never let go. The players went on multiple big runs and consistently outplayed Trumbull on both sides of the ball. East Catholic maintained a double-digit lead for the entire second half, and squashed any hopes of a Golden Eagles comeback by outscoring them 23-10 in the fourth, ultimately coasting to an 86-58 win.

“I love the feeling of winning, it’s the only reason I play,” said Hunter, who transferred. “It’s been crazy, the journey we’ve been through to get here, and it’s been so much fun. I would say we deserve to be here because of the work we’ve put in. I love my teammates.”    

The win was the Eagles largest (26-1) in state tournament play, as well as easily the most points it scored in three contests

They will face archrival Windsor (24-3), the only team that has beaten them the last two seasons, in the state finals Saturday night at Mohegan Sun. The game time is 8:15 p.m.

After going on the aforementioned run in the first, East Catholic scored seven consecutive points following an opening three-pointer by Timmond Williams to take a 30-19 lead. It then went on a 9-2 run to end the second and take a 41-27 lead into halftime.

Behind Hunter and Reilly, The Eagles displayed their offensive prowess beginning late in the first and then throughout the second. The unit displayed ball-handling and athleticism by beating Trumbull off the dribble and getting to the basket for easy shots. The player’s ability to pass the ball also allowed them to hit quality shots, and opened up the lane and perimeter. East Catholic was able to obtain essential fast break baskets by forcing Trumbull into quick missed shots, rebounding well and making quality outlet passes. In addition, multiple players did a good job rebounding offensively. Ultimately, the Eagles shot 8 for 10 in the quarter.

“We really just wanted to share the ball,” Luke said. “All year we’ve had a lot of capable players on our team, me Jaylen, Matt (Knowling), (senior forward) Sam Byam, who are more than capable of putting the ball in the basket. We needed to identify the hot hand, and whoever was feeling it to get them the ball. Jaylin was really feeling it for a period there, so the sole mission of our team was get him in position to where he could succeed. If we put guys in position to do what they do, we’ll have a high level of success.”

“I think me and Joey began finding our spots and making a few shots early. When people begin getting hot like that, find them the ball,” Hunter said .I think after we got down 14-9,I think we just took a deep breath in the timeout and said, “we ‘re were for a reason, we’re good, and began to be more comfortable and make shots.”

Hunter and Reilly scored 31 of East Catholic’s 41 points in the fourth quarter, with Hunter scoring 19 and Reilly 12. Knowling, a junior guard, was also excellent, scoring seven points.

Hunter and Reilly each finished with 24 points, while Knowling owned the paint on his way 20 16. Junior guard Chris Jones had 11. Williams led Trumbull with 21 points, while Quentar Taylor and Chris Brown had 12.

In the third quarter, the Eagles continued to play at a high level, particularly on offense, and maintained a comfortable lead, quickly answering the Golden Eagles when they made quality shots. Knowling was the leader of the offense in the third, scoring seven points and hitting three foul shots.

As the quarter went along, Trumbull began to move the ball better and hit some quality shots, led by Brown, who scored six. Following multiple baskets in the final two minutes, the Golden Eagles outscored Eat Catholic 19-17 in the quarter and cut down the deficit to 58-46, while appearing to have the momentum to possibly make a serious comeback effort. That idea was immediately extinguished.

The Eagles offense immediately struck back, with Hunter and Knowling scoring under a minute to make it 62-48. The defense buckled down and increased its pressure, with Trumbull also struggling mightily to hit close shots. It scored just two points in the opening half of the quarter. Meanwhile, East Catholic continued to expand its lead and make the game a blowout, regularly getting inside for easy baskets and free throw opportunities. Reilly scored eight in the quarter and Jones 6.

“It was a big moment for us to make those shots early in the fourth, because in the playoffs you’re never up too much or down too much. Anything’s possible when you hit a few, they could have come roaring back. We did a great job applying the pressure on them and continuing to attack, and calmed the storm and put ourselves in the driver’s seat”, Riley said.

The defense was consistently effective for the Eagles, particularly after they switched to a 1-2-2 pressure defense late in the first quarter. Players demonstrated their ability to constantly pressure the ball and challenge shots, forcing Trumbull to take off-balance ones or regularly rush shots. East Catholic was able to regularly steals passes and force turnovers using their agility. And no matter what, Knowling and others were there to control the boards and consistently limit Trumbull to one shot.

“They made some shots early, so we had to switch it up to a 1-2-2 and try to slow them down and control the tempo, and that’s what we did,” Hunter said when asked about the defense.

“We did a great job on the ball and filling in the gaps. They’re a great team, and our ability to limit them defensively was very important to getting the win,” Reilly said.

Reilly also discussed the relationship he and teammates have with Hunter as a player and person.

“Jaylen’s such an amazing player, and more importantly an amazing person and teammate. When he came here, he fit right in. He fit in with our culture and was immediately taken in by everyone on the team. The fact he was able to come in and have so much success speaks to his character.”

The finals matchup against Windsor is particularly juicy. WHS, which defeated Immaculate in the other Division I semifinal, has handed the Eagles two painful losses in the last year that kept them from having a perfect record. Last March, WHS defeated No. 1 East Catholic, which beat the Warriors three times earlier in the season, in the quarterfinals in double overtime, with the winning shot made at the buzzer. Two weeks ago, the Eagles were upset in the final of the CCC Tournament by Windsor, after beating them by 22 points roughly two weeks before.

Hunter and Reilly both discussed their anticipation for the game and the approach they will take towards the Warriors.

“Windsor is a great team. We know we’ll have to be ready for them,” Hunter said. We’ll watch a lot of film and practice hard. This is what a lot of people wanted to see.”

“We’re just going to go out there and leave it all on the line. We’ll prepare in practice and look at all the personal they have, but at the end of the day it’s a basketball game. It might be a big stage and for the championship, but we’re just gonna go out there and compete like always and try to get it done,” Reilly said.                       

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