St. Joseph outlasts Stonington boys in double OT

Stonington — The night ended, first in a bear hug, with a group of Stonington High School boys' basketball players that were wrung out and sorrowful after a thrilling double-overtime loss Friday night to St. Joseph of the powerful Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

Then what seemed like ages passed before the Bears filed from their locker room to a round of gracious applause from friends and family.

"They played beyond their (butts) off," an emotional Stonington coach John Luzzi said. "They played inspired tonight.

"They knew what they had to do to win the game and they almost won. I couldn't be prouder."

St. Joseph's Stephen Paolini, who finished with 29 points, hit two free throws with 3.8 seconds remaining and Stonington's final shot fell short at the buzzer as the No. 16 Cadets ousted No. 8 Stonington from the Division IV state tournament quarterfinals 69-67 after an arduous fight.

Stonington's Zach Scott scored 22 points, giving him exactly 1,000 for his career, Jacob Geary had 21 after missing most of the first half in foul trouble and RJ Parrilla had 16, as the Bears finished their season 19-7.

St. Joseph, which advanced to the Division IV semifinals to meet No. 4 New Canaan, is 14-10. The Cadets advanced in the tournament with a 74-58 victory earlier in the week over top-seeded Cromwell, while Stonington reached the quarters with a 54-49 victory over Old Saybrook, also in overtime.

"We work hard in practice. We know we have guys that have to play the whole game," Luzzi said of the Bears' fire, which presented itself early on defense, as the Bears held Paolini to two points in the first quarter and led 13-8.

"We've got some leaders on this team. ... They love each other. They're hurting."

Things couldn't have been more even in every facet from halftime on, when the score was deadlocked at 27.

St. Joseph took the lead at 20-19 on three free throws by Brendan Kade with 4:14 remaining and the Cadets led by a 25-21 margin on a fast break layup by Jason James following a Stonington turnover.

But the Bears put together a 6-0 run starting with a pair of free throws by Sam Montalto, followed by two free throws from Scott and a layup by Scott off an inbounds pass from Parrilla with 37 seconds to go.

St. Joseph's Paolini scored the final basket of the second quarter to tie it, perhaps an indication that two quarters and two overtimes later, the game would still be just as evenly matched.

St. Joseph broke the tie to end the third quarter on an offensive rebound at the buzzer by Paolini to pull ahead at 38-36.

But it was 54-54 at the end of regulation, a steal and a layup by Stonington's Parrilla and an up-and-under by Paolini to close it. And it was 63-63 after the first four-minute overtime, Stonington's Geary on an offensive rebound and Paolini on the other end with 15.3 seconds remaining.

And back and forth it went into double overtime.

St. Joseph grabbed the lead on a shot by Paolini and Stonington tied it on a jump shot by Geary. St. Joe's Paul Fabbri hit a one-and-one to make it 67-65 in the Cadets' favor and Geary forged his way inside off an assist by Parrilla to make it 67-67.

Paolini finally made the difference from the free throw line.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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