UNCASVILLE — The emotions could not, and would not, be contained.

Josh Reaves stood off to the side of the Notre Dame-Fairfield bench, holding his silver medal and taking in deep breaths, trying to stop the tears. At the end of the bench, Tyler Bourne kept his face hidden, bent over, with his jersey top pulled up over his eyes to hide his pain while the rest of the Lancers sat there in heart-wrenching silence.

It was not to be. Again. For the third straight year, Notre Dame had advanced into the CIAC state championship game, but for the third straight year victory was not to be. Despite playing three-time defending champion Sacred Heart as tough as anyone has all season, the Lancers could not stop the Hearts juggernaut, falling 75-53 in the Class L final before 4,822 Sunday afternoon at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

“I’m so proud of all of them and all the accomplishments they’ve had this year,” Lancers coach Chris Watts said. “I was thankful that they accepted me, being the first year with me coming into a new program. I thanked them for showing me the love that they have over this season and I just let them know that I’m confident that we’ll be back.”

It was the fourth straight state title for the Hearts, who won two in Class S before winning in Class M last season. And this one had to be the sweetest for Sacred Heart, considering they lost their best player, Raheem Solomon, with a knee injury in the NVL tournament.

“A lot of people had counted us out and I could have been counted among them,” Hearts coach John Carroll said. “But with every roadblock, every obstacle put up against my guys, they proved me wrong.”

It was the second straight year that Notre Dame and Sacred Heart met in the championship game. In last year’s Class M final, the Hearts won by 52 points. And while this one was much more competitive, the Lancers just didn’t have an answer for Sacred Heart’s inside game. Isaiah Gaiter led the way with 24 points while Omar Rowe added 18 and Legend Johnson had 10.

Overall, the Hearts scored 44 points in the paint and had 17 second-chance points.

With those kind of numbers, the Lancers didn’t have a chance.

“They were getting a lot of second-chance points and I think when you give a team a lot of second-chance points, they’re going to score,” Watts said. “We didn’t put bodies on guys when the shots were going up, we didn’t box out too well, we let them get a ton of attempts at the rim and that’s just a formula for a loss.”

Sacred Heart came out of the blocks running, with Gaiter making a three-point play and a layup as the Hearts opened with an 8-0 run. But Bourne got the Lancers going, making a pair of NBA-range 3-pointers, along with a pull-up jumper from the wing and a layup as ND climbed within 14-11 and was within 16-11 after the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Reaves got into the act, scoring seven points and with Bourne adding six more, the Lancers were down just 36-26 at halftime. But Sacred Heart opened the third quarter with flurry as Rowe scored six and Courie Stevenson had four as the Hearts pushed the lead to 49-33 with 1:41 left in the period and never looked back.

“They attacked the rim, we were staying on the side of them and not getting in front of them,” Watts said. “And when you’re playing against one of the top teams in the state and you don’t play defense the whole game, they’re going to score points and they’re going to look really good doing it.”

Bourne had 16 at halftime but the Hearts kept him under wraps for much of the second half, holding him to just eight points. He finished with 24.

“They were there every time (Tyler) went by,” Watts said. “In that man-to-man situation, that was excellent help defense. They were there. They were everywhere.”

Reaves finished with 11 and Nori Davis had 10 for ND.

“I’m proud of my brothers who I went to battle with every day,” said senior center Colin Burke, who scored four points and grabbed eight rebounds. “Getting here was our goal from day one and we got here. It was just unfortunate that we couldn’t finish the job.”

“It was a great season, but I’m hurting,” said Davis, a junior. “We’ve got some good players coming back and I think we’ve got a good chance to come back.”

And that was the message Watts made sure to tell his players in the locker room after the game.

“It’s not a message that you want to have to tell the kids,” Watts said. “But in my mind, we’re going to be back. And the guys believe that they’re going to be back. They wanted this one, this one meant a lot to them, but they understand that the hard work they put in this year will get them back here next year.”




Tyler Bourne 8 5-6 24, Colin Burke 2 0-0 4, Anthony Mongillo 0 0-0 0, Nori Davis 3 3-6 10, Josh Reaves 5 0-0 11, Damion Medwinter 1 0-0 2, Woodley Monnexant 0 2-2 2, Stone Appleberg 0 0-0 0, Gerard Lauture 0 0-0 0, Rodney Medor 0 0-0 0, Philip Conner 0 0-0 0, Xavier Giddens 0 0-0 0, Alejandro Sanchez 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 10-14 53


Michael West 1 1-2 3, Legend Johnson 4 1-2 10, Courie Stevenson 5 0-0 10, Omar Rowe 6 6-7 18, Isaiah Gaiter 9 6-7 24, Gaeley Etienne 1 0-0 2, Tariq Price 0 0-0 0, Peyton Stephens 1 0-0 2, Andre Anderson 0 0-0 0, Francis Barton 0 0-0 0, Nahzir Ivester 2 0-0 6. Totals: 29 14-18 75

ND-FAIRFIELD 11 15 13 14—53

SACRED HEART 16 20 15 24—78

3-point goals: SHA— Ivester 2, Johnson; ND—Bourne 3, Davis, Reaves