Weston will play Valley Regional for the state Class M championship at Mohegan Sun Arena, Friday, March 15, at 8 p.m.
Facing some first-time opponents may have put the Weston High boys varsity basketball team at an advantage in its most recent tournament games.
The 23rd-ranked Trojans’ tenacious man-to-man defense caught the competition off-guard last week. Such played a big part in three victories, including one against sixth-ranked Enfield in the semifinals on Tuesday.
Weston held its opponent to single-digit scoring in each of the first four quarters. The Raiders did pick up the pace a bit in the final frame but strong foul shooting by the Trojans allowed them to keep a safe distance in a 53-47 win at Wilbur Cross High in New Haven to advance to the finals. Compete details will follow in the next issue.
Hosting 26th-seeded Tolland in the second round on Wednesday, March 6, Weston also turned its offense up a notch in the second half to pull far ahead before winning 74-50 in its final home game of the season.
“We stayed focused,” said Weston senior and captain Charlie DiPasquale, who scored a career-high 31 points in his last game in Weston. “We just played smart.”
Although Weston jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the first quarter, the Eagles (who upset Windham in the first round) quickly answered by taking a brief 13-12 advantage with the help of some accurate foul shooting. DiPasquale’s field goal only seconds later put Weston back up as it clung to a 17-15 lead.
Jaffre Rodriguez’s three-pointer early in the second quarter marked Tolland’s last lead of the night. Four straight free throws by Asher Lee-Tyson and DiPasquale and Weston was ahead to stay, eventually ending the half leading 26-23.
By the time the second half got underway Weston’s defense began to get to the Eagles, holding them to single digit scoring in the third quarter. Aside from Dan Vareed’s three-pointer, Tolland’s only other points came courtesy of a couple of field goals by Taylor Fortin.
“We held him to 13 points,” said Weston head coach Mike Hvizdo. “He’s one of the best players in the state.”
At the other end of the court Weston picked up the pace. Ahead 30-26, it went on a 10-2 run capped off by Pascal Arvoy’s free throw and Weston finished the frame with nine straight points at 49-30.
Tolland tried to help its cause with a number of three points shots in the last frame. However, it was called for numerous fouls and the Trojans responded by sinking 17 of 21 shots to seal the win.
DiPasquale led Weston with a career-high 31 points, and went 12 for 14 from the foul line. Grant Limone scored 14 and Arvoy sank 12 and led the team in rebounds with 16.
Asher Lee-Tyson had a triple double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He had four steals on defense.
Ethan Lee-Tyson scored five and had five steals on defense. Matt Folger sank two points.
Having managed one upset early in the tournament the Trojans had their sights set on another when they visited second-seeded Kaynor Tech on Saturday in the quarterfinals. As was the case in their previous game, their defense gave their opponent a tough time, enough for a 62-54 win.
“We did our homework,” said Hvizdo, who scouted the Panthers prior to the game. “We came in here very prepared.”
Despite the discrepancy in the rankings the two teams were evenly-matched for much of the way. A balanced scoring effort helped the Trojans early as five players found the hoop in the opening frame for a 14-12 lead.
Weston withstood the Panthers’ press defense and shot well from the outside in the second frame, leading by as many as eight (20-12) with the help of back-to-back three-pointers by Asher Lee-Tyson and DiPasquale.
Kaynor showed it could also hit the three-point shot, as Terrance Thompson cut the lead to 22-21, only to have the visitors go on a 9-1 run with the help of some transition defense. A putback by DiPasquale after a steal by Asher Lee-Tyson helped put the Trojans up 33-26 at halftime.
With a whole second half to go the Panthers did not give up and began with a six-point run early in the third quarter, cutting the lead to one (33-32). Each time they threatened, however, Weston appeared to have an answer, either with a run of its own or a key shot to keep a step or two ahead.
When Thompson got his team to within one (39-38) on two free throws with 1:41 left DiPasquale hit another three-pointer and with two foul shots by Asher-Lee Tyson Weston led 45-39 after three quarters.
As the final frame got underway the Panthers again began to whittle away at the lead. Thompson’s three-pointer got them to within one again and his steal and subsequent lay-up gave them their first lead of the half at 54-53 with 1:20 to go.
Only seconds later DiPasquale countered with a three-pointer. He then sank two free throws and Weston never trailed again.
He finished with 28 points, including four three-pointers. Asher Lee-Tyson scored 14 with two three-pointers. Arvoy scored six. Ethan Lee-Tyson, Grant Limone and Matt Folger each scored two.
“Our kids have such confidence,” said Hvizdo. “We’re riding on energy now.”