Fitch turns to its youngsters to rally past Tolland 61-53

Groton — This isn't necessarily the time of year to look forward, not with the promise and possibility of a run in the state tournament. But then, if you saw what Charles Sylvan did Tuesday night — And The Freshmen Shall Lead Them — you'd at least give yourself reason to grin.

Sylvan turned to a pair of freshmen and the steadiness of junior Ajia Brown in the first round of the Division III state boys' basketball tournament, a night when the present and the future smiled on Fitch High School.

The 15th-seeded Falcons defeated No. 18 Tolland, 61-53, setting up a second-round game Thursday at No. 2 Prince Tech in Hartford. Fitch (13-1) lost to Prince Tech 76-66 in overtime on Jan. 24.

Freshman Colin Anderson scored all 13 of his points in the final nine minutes — three 3-pointers included — as Fitch turned a 40-36 deficit late in the third quarter into a 47-41 lead early in the fourth.

"I thought I'd get about two minutes of playing time, maybe come in to shoot," Anderson said. "It ended up being more than that."

It sure did. And to think that it took Sylvan most of the season to believe Anderson was ready for this.

"He just wasn't ready physically," Sylvan said. "Not strong enough. It was a race to get him into shape. The last five games, he was lighting it up on JV."

Anderson: "I never ran as much in my life as I did this year. You get ready that way."

Sylvan also used freshman guard Yaniel Hernandez, who keyed a 14-2 run in the first half that brought Fitch back from a seven-point deficit.

"We have a great freshman class," Sylvan said.

Brown, a junior, wasn't merely a trustworthy ballhandler, but scored six of his team-high 16 points in the fourth quarter. Brown assisted on Seamus Greaves' basket with 2:10 left to give Fitch a 49-45 lead before scoring on the next possession to make it 51-45.

"A.J. (Brown) really made good decisions with the ball," Sylvan said. "He got the ball to the right people in the right places and really settled us down."

Tolland (9-12) hails from the Central Connecticut Conference and had played East Catholic, East Hartford and Glastonbury, among others, this season. They've all spent time in the GameTime CT top 10 poll.

"They play in a good league," Sylvan said. "Plus, I saw their blue uniforms and the wingspan on a few of their kids and I had Waterford flashbacks."

Waterford, the defending Div. III state champ, defeated Fitch three times this season.

But that's all irrelevant now. Fitch has another game to play Thursday.

"Our kids are developing," Sylvan said. "All good signs."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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