UNCASVILLE -- It was supposed to be their year.

A season after falling in the Class LL final to Hillhouse, Fairfield Prep was returning the core of its runner-up team, including Providence-bound center Paschal Chukwu.

The Jesuits ran through the SCC unbeaten, won the conference title and was rolling through the Class LL playoffs with their closest game an 18-point win over Greenwich in the semifinals.

It looked like the Jesuits were just going to keep rolling in Saturday's Class LL championship, taking an 18-point lead at halftime against Central, punctuated by an alley-oop from Thomas Nolan to Chukwu as time expired in the second quarter.

Then Central came out in the third quarter in a 2-2-1 press, causing 11 Jesuits' turnovers in the third quarter, and it all came crashing down from there as the Hilltoppers rallied for a 76-73 win.

Central's press was so good it erased the 18-point deficit as the Hilltoppers took a 57-56 advantage into the third quarter.

Prep coach Leo Redgate said his team was prepared for the press, but just did not take care of the ball in the third quarter.

"They had no choice but to come out with a reckless abandon, which they did," Redgate said. "We know how to break the pressure, it's not that. We just had too many turnovers and we didn't attack the basket. Just give Central credit, they took the fight to us in the second half."

The Hilltoppers were able to limit Chukwu's touches in the second half when Prep was able to set up a half-court offense once the press was employed.

Chukwu finished with a triple double, recording 21 points, 17 rebounds and 12 blocks with 17 of his 21 points coming in the first half.

Even after Central took the lead, Prep answered, matching baskets with the Hilltoppers until the final moments when Tyler Ancrum stole the ball and was fouled, making both foul shots to put the game on ice.

The Jesuits will now lose the core of a team that as freshmen lost in the LL final to St. Joseph and lost last year to Hillhouse, leaving them as a team that won a lot, but did not win it all.

Redgate had nothing but praise for the players on his team.

"I love them," Redgate said. "They worked very, very hard and we were absolutely prepared for tonight. When the going got tough, we made some careless mistakes and turned the ball over. You can't do that and let a team like that back into the game."

Scott.Ericson@scni.com; @EricsonSports