Notre Dame-Fairfield takes on Sacred Heart in Class L final
Published 8:01 pm, Saturday, March 18, 2017
FAIRFIELD — Will the third time be the charm? Both Colin Burke and Nori Davis are counting on it.
Two of the cornerstones of the Notre Dame-Fairfield boys’ basketball team this season have a lot of experience appearing in state championship games. Both Burke, a 6-foot-5 senior center, and Davis, a 6-4 junior forward, have started for the Lancers in the Class M finals each of the last two seasons — only to have to suffer the agony of defeat — losing to both Weaver and Sacred Heart Academy.
Now, they are back again, facing that same Sacred Heart Academy squad, this time playing for the Class L crown. The Lancers and the Hearts meet today at 5:30 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“It would be amazing to win. In my final game, it would be like a dream come true,” Burke said, one of the team’s co-captains. “There will always been a tinge of disappointment if we don’t win, but we did win the SWC and that was a big goal of ours this season. It would be an incomplete mission but it won’t be a total disappointment.”
Last season, with Auburn-bound Mustapha Heron leading the way, Sacred Heart ran roughshod over Notre Dame-Fairfield, winning 101-49. In 2015, it was Weaver, who knocked off ND, 73-59. Add to that a 57-51 loss to Hillhouse in the Class L finals in 1965 and a 68-65 loss to Pomperaug in the 1980 Class M final, the Lancers are still looking for their first-ever state championship.
CLASS L CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 2 Notre Dame-Fairfield (25-2) vs. No. 1 Sacred Heart (27-0)
TALE OF THE TAPE
WHEN/WHERE: Sunday, 5:30 p.m. Mohegan Sun Arena
HOW THEY GOT HERE: ND-Fairfield: defeated No. 31 New Fairfield 69-53, No. 15 Career Magnet 62-59 (OT), No. 23 E.O. Smith 78-51, No. 6 Wilton 81-61. Sacred Heart: defeated No. 23 Joel Barlow 71-53, No. 16 NW Catholic 58-41, No. 9 Windsor 58-52, No. 4 Middletown 70-56.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
ND-FAIRFIELD: Who else? Tyler Bourne. The junior point guard has spent the Class L tournament cutting through opposing defenses like a hot knife through butter. He can stop on a dime and bury a 3 — from pretty much anywhere on the court — or drive past his defender and take the ball right to the hoop. And when he’s not scoring, he’s passing — he had 11 assists against E.O. Smith and seven more against Wilton. He’s scores in streaks and when he gets hot … watch out.
SACRED HEART: Junior swingman Isaiah Gaiter. The 6-foot-3 junior has stepped up big time since Raheem Solomon went down with a knee injury in the NVL tournament. Gaiter had 12 points and nine rebounds against Barlow, 19 points and 18 boards against NW Catholic, 16 points against Windsor and 23 points, 10 rebounds and three steals against Middletown. He’s averaging 17.5 points and 11 rebounds in the Hearts four CIAC wins.
SACRED HEART: “I had no idea we’d be where we are at this point in the season. I absolutely did not. I thought we’d have a chance to compete every night, but, credit to my guys, every challenge, every bit of adversity they faced, they’ve conquered.” — Sacred Heart coach John Carroll told the Waterbury Republican after the Hearts semifinal win over Middletown
“I am extremely happy for my team,” Lancers coach Chris Watts said. “We’ve beaten every kind of team, zone teams, man-to-man teams, fast break teams and slow down teams. That really speaks to the type of team we have. We’re going to go out and give it our best shot, just like we have all year.”
The Hearts come into the game with a perfect 27-0 record and an 82-game win streak against Connecticut teams. SHA will be after its fourth straight CIAC title. And while Scared Heart will be without Raheem Solomon (knee injury), the Hearts will have plenty of firepower in 6-3 junior Isaiah Gaiter, who’s averaging 17.5 points in the four tournament games, along with 6-1 senior Legend Johnson (16.0) and 6-2 senior Courie Stevenson (10.5).
“Well, one good thing is Mustafa’s not there anymore, so I think we have a little better chance this year,” Burke said. “We’re not afraid of them and we just want to show that we can play with them.”
With a veteran team returning, along with the additions of junior point guard Tyler Bourne and sophomore forward Josh Reaves, the Lancers have shown that they can play with anyone. In the four Class L games, Bourne is scoring at a 19.3 clip, including an eye-popping 29 in a 62-59 overtime win over Career. Davis is close behind, averaging 15.5 points, Reaves is at 12.3 and Anthony Mongillo, the team’s leading 3-point threat, is averaging 10 points, making a dozen three’s to date.
“Yes, Tyler, Nori, Josh, and Colin are good but our success comes from the second and third units that don’t play as much but in practice day in and day out, provide a high level of play and competition,” Watts said. “They make our starters better every day.”
And while Burke is averaging just 3.5 points over the course of the tournament, the senior likes nothing better than being the team’s blue-collar man.
“Winning is the number one things for me. It doesn’t really matter stats wise, what I get as long as we’re winning,” Burke said. “I love setting screens for (Tyler) and watching him work, it’s super fun.”
Bourne admitted that it took a little while to get used to everything before the Lancers really started to click.
“It probably took the first five games because in the beginning, we were winning games but we were winning just by our athleticism and talent,” Bourne said. “But when we started coming together, and we started to trust each other more and really get into playing with each other, the game became more simple for the whole team.”
Added Davis: “I’ve been saying it all the time, we love playing with each other. We all get along and that’s important, you have to be able to get along both on and off the court. That’s what we’re really big on. Our chemistry is really good.”
And what would it mean to finally get that championship ring?
“It would be great, honestly, a great feeling,” Davis said
And if not?
“I think I’ll be disappointed,” Davis said. “We can’t be just satisfied with just getting there, we have to cap it off and get it. We’ve been there now three times and we know what it takes to get it.”