St. Bernard boys topple Griswold to win ECC Division III title
Griswold — St. Bernard junior Frank Pacheco's assessment of a team, trying to win its third straight Eastern Connecticut Conference boys' basketball division title this season, which starts two freshmen:
"I knew we had a chance to win a lot of games or lose a lot of games," Pacheco said Friday night.
Said St. Bernard coach Mark Jones of the pursuit of a third straight league championship: "This year people didn't know, including us."
St. Bernard won its sixth straight game and clinched the ECC Division III title Friday with a 57-43 win over Griswold. Pacheco scored 21 points for the Saints (12-6, 6-1), 13 in the second half, Walker Baillargeon 14 and one of the freshmen, Tyson Wheeler, had 11.
Both teams have a division game to play, but St. Bernard owns the tiebreaker over the Wolverines (12-5, 5-2) by virtue of its season sweep. St. Bernard defeated Griswold 67-53 the first time the teams played, Jan. 20, but promptly lost to Windham four days later 69-55, forging a tie once again with Griswold for the division lead.
St. Bernard took a 26-23 lead at halftime on a three-point play by Baillargeon with 1 minute, 22 seconds left in the second quarter.
But what had been a back-and-forth matchup throughout the first half tipped in favor of St. Bernard to start the third quarter. Pacheco scored right away and kept right on going, going on an 8-3 run all by himself and giving the Saints a 34-26 lead on a three-point play with 5:12 to go in the quarter.
Pacheco engineered a series of drives and went 4-for-5 from the free throw line during that span.
St. Bernard led 40-34 after three quarters before asserting its dominance, reeling off 13 straight points to start the fourth quarter as the lead ballooned to 53-34.
"My teammates giving me a chance, man," said Pacheco of what caused his parade to the basket to start the third quarter, "trusting me to make plays. These dudes are real talents.
"It's huge (to win the division). This one felt great. We stuck together."
St. Bernard hasn't lost since that day against Windham.
"That's a blessing in disguise," Pacheco said. "We went in there sleeping on them."
The Saints haven't slept on anyone since.
"Maybe people don't know it yet but they're starting to see," Jones said of his team. "You got a lot of guys that can drive and a lot of guys that can shoot. It's hard to guard. ... I couldn't be more proud of this group. With young kids, they don't understand a lot, the different types of defense. It takes time to learn. People don't understand how much time and effort goes into it."
St. Bernard took a 10-2 lead in the first quarter on a 3-pointer by freshman Cedrick Similien off a kick-out by Nate Avery, but Griswold coach Rob Mileski took a timeout and the Wolverines, Chris Ruddy in particular, began scoring.
Ruddy hit one high-arcing 3-pointer to pull within 13-8 and Ruddy hit another from the right baseline at the buzzer, making it 14-11. It was Ruddy again to start the second quarter, as another Griswold 3 made it 14-14.
St. Bernard's Pacheo came back with a 3 of his own, however, and the rest of the half was back and forth. To end the quarter, Ruddy, who finished the half with a team-high nine points, went to the line and made one of two to tie the game at 23.
St. Bernard's Baillargeon converted a three-point play, driving the baseline from left to right and drawing a foul before sinking the free throw. That gave the Saints the 26-23 lead at the half.
Ruddy finished with 13 points for Griswold.
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