Lancers reach state final for first time in 35 years
"Jake, come on ... wake up," Laczkoski said. "You're a senior."
From that moment on, Heaton not only played like a senior, he played like a leader.
And so did CJ Davidson, for that matter. The two Lancers seniors combined for 44 points as Notre Dame-Fairfield defeated Bacon Academy 66-54 Tuesday night at New Britain High School to advance to the Class M championship game, Saturday at 3 p.m. , against Weaver, a 53-45 winner over East Catholic, at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
It marks the first time since 1980 that the Lancers have reached a CIAC championship game and it was also the 16th win in the last 17 games for ND (21-6), who stood at just 5-5 after back-to-back losses to Sacred Heart and Newtown in mid-January.
"This is so special," Laczkoski said. "We were two seconds away in 2011 against Trinity (Catholic) from going and in 2012, Waterford beat us but we had a shot with 35 seconds left, so this is very special, especially with these guys. They aren't the most experienced team, they're not the biggest team, but boy, do they have heart."
And that showed during a game-changing 22-4 run that erased a 20-10 Bacon Academy lead a minute into the second quarter and pushed the Lancers out in front 32-24.
"Every time we get down the coaching staff is always telling us to fight harder," said Davidson, who led the Lancers with 23 points. "Fortunately, we kept chipping away and they got weak."
"They had been hitting a lot of shots and we knew we had to start locking them up or they were going to win," said ND's Jordan Pettway, who added 15. "We wanted to go to the championship real bad so we knew that we had to start playing defense."
And they did, allowing Bacon Academy (18-6) just 24 points in the second half.
"We knew they were going to play us man-to-man and that's one of our weaknesses, we don't have a lot of ball-handlers," Bobcats coach John Shea said. "They went after us. We got down early and it's hard to have success when that happens. When we finally switched to man-to-man, there was no chance, they have too much quickness."
That quickness was the difference, especially in the second half when the Lancers attacked the basket and forced Bacon Academy to foul. Notre Dame finished the game making 29 of 34 free throws, 14 of 16 coming in the final 2:41 as the Lancers iced the victory and punched their ticket to the Class M finals.
"Do to what we did tonight is really special," Laczkoski said. "I thought we did a better job (defensively) against (Jimmy) Matos and (Sean) Kelly in the second half, so just a beautiful win for the kids."
Matos had 29 to lead the Bobcats, but 18 of those came in the first half. Kelly finished with just seven.
"CJ played great. He was terrific on Matos in the second half," Laczkoski said. "We put the two seniors on him... we're down a really good player, a starter, Jesse McIntosh (lost with a knee injury in the SWC tournament final) and what these guys have done, it's special, because we're playing three freshmen. It's special."
Heaton hit four of his five 3-pointers in the second quarter as ND outscored Bacon 27-13 to take a 37-30 halftime lead. He finished with 21.
"Jake was terrific," Laczkoski said. "He hasn't made three 3's, not even in practice. It was a `senior moment' at the right time too."
"He told me to be smarter," Heaton said. "And that's what I was the rest of the game. I played smarter."
And he played like a leader.