When Mike Walsh stops to think about all the games the Trinity Catholic boys basketball team could have won this season but didn't, it's enough to make his hair fall out.
"It's painful," said the veteran head coach, whose team lost three games by five points and two more by three against Wilton and Bassick. "We've lost eight FCIAC games, and every single one of them was close."
And yet, despite opening the season with five straight losses within the conference with one of the most inexperienced rosters Walsh has had during his 30-plus years with the program, the Crusaders still hold their playoff fate in their own hands.
Senior captain Tremaine Frasier scored 20 of his game-high 26 points in the first half as Trinity Catholic raced out to a 13-point first-quarter lead before cruising to an easy 83-58 victory over rebuilding Fairfield Warde Wednesday night in Fairfield.
Trinity Catholic, which evened its record at 9-9 overall and 8-8 in the FCIAC, did whatever it wanted to offensively and led 73-40 after three quarters. Sophomore forward Aaron Wheeler poured in 18 points, including two 3-pointers while juniors Tyrell St. John and Justice Page added 12 and 10 points, respectively. Page also added seven assists and six rebounds.
Trinity entered the game in a tie for ninth place in the FCIAC standings with Norwalk and Harding, most likely needing to win its final three regular-season games to reach the conference playoffs.
The blowout victory could be the impetus the Crusaders need to get it done.
"This is a big momentum builder," said Frasier, who collected six assists, four steals and five rebounds while scoring his 26 points in just three quarters of action. "We were pretty shaky early in the season, and we lost a couple of games because of stupidity. But we're coming together. We just have to keep working hard and get ready for Greenwich on Monday."
Beating Warde was imperative for Trinity Catholic, which will need to go through second-seeded Greenwich and city-rival Westhill in the final two games next Monday and Wednesday, respectively, to avoid getting shut out of the FCIAC playoffs for the first time since 1997.
With four players who score in double figures on a consistent basis and an inside presence like 6-foot-5 center Peace Ilegomah, who finished with nine points, seven rebounds and five blocks against Warde (2-16 overall, 1-15 FCIAC), the Crusaders are a team no one wants to see get into the eight-team playoff field.
"There's no question about it. On any given night, we can beat anybody. And the way we're playing now, we have a good shot," Walsh said. "But we have to get in first. We have to face arguably two of the top three teams in the league. So we have a challenge ahead of us."
Warde honored its five seniors prior to the start of the game, started all five of them, then made quick substitutions after the first whistle, getting offensive leader Giacomo Brancato and defensive specialist Kavon Polk on the floor. Polk wasted no time, coming up with a steal that led to a layup for Brancato, and it appeared as if the Mustangs had come to play.
But Wheeler and Frasier put a stop to that thought in a hurry. Wheeler scored six points during a 14-4 run to put Trinity up 14-6. Frasier then went to work tearing up the Warde defense the rest of the first half, scoring in every way imaginable, including a couple of fast-break slam dunks and two very long-range 3-pointers.
Frasier also started the nicest play of the night, lofting a perfect lob to Ilegomah for a powerful alley-oop in the third quarter.
Senior Nick Cotto ended up being the only player in double figures for Warde, scoring 15 points with two 3-pointers. Freshman J.J. Conway looked good off the bench with a 3-pointer and six rebounds.
"I came out feeling really good in the layup line," Frazier said. "I was able to throw down a couple of dunks and that's something I don't usually do. I was just feeling good tonight."
So was the rest of the team, which did just about anything it wanted to do offensively, scoring 26 points in the first quarter and another 30 in the third.
Walsh was happy to see his team feeling the urgency of the situation.
"It was a game we needed and the kids knew it and they came out very strong offensively," Walsh said. "Once we settled in defensively, for all intents and purposes, that was it."
Trinity Catholic 83, Fairfield Warde 58
Jermaine Frasier 12 0-1 26 Justice Page 4 0-0 10 Tyrell St. John 4 3-4 12 Aaron Wheeler 6 4-4 18 Peace Ilegomah 4 0-2 8 Neno Merritt 1 0-0 2 Wyatt Garyk 0 0-0 0 Tyler Williams 1 1-2 3 James Conlon 0 0-0 0 Mike Szemenyei 0 0-0 0 Johnny Somers 1 0-0 2 Medinard Michel 0 0-0 0 Lucas Salem 1 0-0 2. Totals: 34 8-13 83.
Mike Pehota 0 0-0 0 Tommy Luckner 2 0-0 4 Terrance Walden 0 0-0 0 Nick Cotto 6 2-2 15 Brian Kerrigan 2 0-0 4 Kavon Polk 3 0-0 7 Giacomo Brancato 4 1-3 9 Brandon Bissack 3 0-0 9 Marcel Parsons 1 0-0 2 Dylan Reilly 0 0-0 0 J.J. Conway 1 0-0 3 Jackson Longley 0 0-0 0 Mark Schwartz 0 0-0 0 John Natoli 1 0-0 2 Jared Collier 1 0-0 3. Totals: 24 3-5 58.
TRINITY CATHOLIC 26 17 30 10--83
FAIRFIELD WARDE 16 9 15 18--58
3-pointers: TC--Frazier 2, Page 2, Wheeler 2, St. John; FW--Bissack 3, Cotto, Polk, Conway, Collier.