EAST HAVEN -- Hamden was the first team this season to unleash a full-court press in heavy doses against Fairfield Prep's sure-handed guards. More importantly, it was also the first -- and only -- team to beat the SCC's undisputed top squad.

And in the rubber match, none of it mattered.

Top-seeded Prep fended off a late push by fourth-seeded Hamden to punch its ticket to the SCC basketball final for a third straight year with a 68-51 victory on Monday at East Haven High.

"We won by a lot, but it was a war, basically," coach Leo Redgate said. "I credit Hamden, they kept fighting, they kept pressuring."

The defending champion Jesuits (21-1) will face Career -- a 70-61 winner over Hillhouse in the semifinals -- on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Quinnipiac University. The Jesuits are perfect in two meetings against the Panthers (20-3) this season.

"It's a big step for our program," said guard Tom Nolan, who led all scorers with 20 points. "It says a lot about our program that we just keep making it every year. Coach Leo does a great job, and it's a testament to our younger guys, too."

Nolan, who missed the Jesuits' 72-68 loss to Hamden on Feb. 6 with an ankle injury, scored eight points in the first quarter and keyed a big effort in the second half. Nolan and guard Rich Kelly, who had 19 points, hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 55-40.

Hamden didn't recover.

"He's a tremendous player," coach Jarrad Beck said of Nolan. "But they're very capable with or without him; he just adds to it.

"We just got caught at a bad time, and we just weren't in sync. We got a little cold shooting."

Hamden (17-6) pulled within 40-38 late in the third, but Prep answered with a commanding 17-2 run that spanned late into the fourth. The Jesuits, who orchestrated a late comeback to beat Hamden 70-62 in the teams' first meeting in January, won it going away.

"Once (Beck) knew that we made the adjustment to break the press," Redgate said, "I don't think they were going to get much out of their press in the fourth quarter."

Hamden was led by Dylan Noble's 15 points, and CJ Seaforth, who did not start while recovering from an ankle injury, scored 10.

"We didn't have our normal spring in our step," Beck said. "We were horrible offensively tonight."

After five lead changes early in the first quarter, Prep grabbed the lead for good with a 9-2 spurt heading into the second. While Kelly, guard Ryan Foley and center Pat Harding all dealt with foul trouble early, Nolan sparked the Jesuits to a 34-26 halftime lead.

"Their press," Nolan said, "Hamden's a fast, hard-playing team. We knew that coming in. ... Once we knew that we had to get it to the middle of the floor, we started breaking it easy in the second half. It gave us a couple easy buckets."

dbonjour@ctpost.com; twitter.com/DougBonjour

HAMDEN (17-6)

Dylan Noble 7 0-3 15 Blair Johnson 1 2-2 4 Andrew Rice 2 4-8 8 Trevor Osborn 1 0-0 2 CJ Seaforth 4 0-0 10 Mike Servetas 0 0-1 0 Oliver Graham 1 0-0 3 Christian Scott 2 2-2 6 Bryan Kearney 1 1-2 3 Sean Backus 0 0-0 0 Max Joyner 0 0-0 0 Eddie Agyeman 0 0-0 0 Evans Genece 0 0-0 0 Jamal Bynum 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 9-18 51.

FAIRFIELD PREP (21-1)

Matt Gerics 1 3-6 6 Tom Nolan 7 5-6 20 Rich Kelly 6 4-4 19 Joe DiGennaro 3 3-4 9 Ryan Foley 2 2-3 8 Pat Harding 2 0-2 4 Robert Haskins 0 2-2 2 Tate Duran 0 0-0 0 John Murphy 0 0-0 0 Allen Gibson 0 0-0 0 Brendan Carey 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 19-27 68.

HAMDEN 10 16 12 13 -- 51

PREP 15 19 12 22 -- 68

3-pointers: H -- Seaforth 2, Noble; P -- R. Kelly 3, Foley 2, Nolan, Gerics. Fouled out: H -- Scott ; P -- Foley.