Prep basketball beats odds in reaching Class LL final
Coming into the 2010-11 season, no one knew what to expect from the Fairfield Prep boys basketball team.
Prep had talent galore but lacked experience. The Jesuits returned only two starters from their team a year ago and were asking a lot from the kids who had played on junior varsity.
The Jesuits also were putting their program in the hands of a coach who lacked basketball coaching background. Leo Redgate was the JV team a year ago, but he is more widely known around Fairfield as a real estate agent and owner of several businesses.
"I was thrown into this job," Redgate said. "I was here because I didn't want to let Prep down, and I didn't want to let the boys down."
Prep beat the odds, and rolled through its regular season. The Jesuits had their most successful season in 15 years, reaching the Class LL state final, before losing to No. 2 St. Joseph, 79-53, Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.
"They clearly were the better team," Redgate said of St. Joseph.
Throughout the Jesuits' odyssey, there were highs and lows. The Jesuits opened 8-0, with a win of its Christmas tournament, and an upset over SCC-rival Xavier.
Prep hit the low point of its season in January, losing three of four, but those were three of only four losses all season. Prep closed the regular season winning six of its last seven, going into the SCC tournament, winning two games in the SCCs and reaching the semifinals-- something that no Prep team had done since 1995.
"We got a little taste, which is something we haven't had in a while," Redgate said. "I feel really bad for the boys."
All the while, the Jesuits grew up and became a better team. Redgate became less of the focus, and guys like junior guard Terry Tarpey and senior guard Robbie Bier became the center pieces. Prep became fun to watch, and it was because Redgate was smart enough to get out of the way.
"The fact that some of these boys were able to play in the state final," Redgate said, "it's not great, it's a miracle."
Once top-seeded Windsor lost, the Class LL bracket fell perfectly for Prep to reach the state finals. The Jesuits held off East Hartford in the first round, bombarded Crosby with a storm of made shots, won a classic against Xavier, and beat Ridgefield to reach the finals.
"You never want it to end," Redgate said. "I'm very proud of how they represented the school."
However, in the finals against St. Joseph, the Jesuits struggled to shoot in the arena, where distant backgrounds can throw off shooters who are unaccustomed. Prep's three top-shooters-- Bier, Tarpey and senior Kevin Potter-- combined to shoot 5-26 -- 19 percent -- on Saturday night.
"We have trouble with arenas," Redgate said. "We didn't hit the broad side of a barn."
The Cadets, however, did not have such trouble in the arena. St. Joseph shot 58 percent in the first half, as it took a 48-28 halftime advantage.
"We gave them too many threes," Redgate said. "And they just didn't miss them."
Redgate remains coy about his status as coach beyond this season, but if this is his first and only year, what a year it was. Maybe he had the talent to get to where he did, but he did not screw it up.
"I honestly don't know whether I'm going to coach again," he said of his coaching future. "If that is the direction that Prep wants to go, I'll support it 100 percent.
"It is a significant time commitment. I do have other things going on," Redgate said.
Only Tarpey will return from the starting lineup in 2011-12. Bier, Potter, center Matt Daley and Alex Heiman will all move on, so Prep will likely need the likes of Tim Butala, Mike Matera and Justin Thompson to step up when the time comes.
"You should never take a run like this for granted," Redgate said.
But, looking back, Prep will be able to smile when recalling the ride that 2010-11 provided it.
"I'm very proud of the school," Redgate said. "I wanted the kids to have fun."