Fiery third quarter leads No. 3 Fitch to ECC quarterfinal win over Woodstock
Groton — Lorenzo Rivera, Fitch’s senior captain, gave the halftime speech Thursday night, which clearly snapped the Falcons out of whatever funk they were in.
Third-seeded Fitch proceeded to score 18 straight points to start the third quarter, 12 from Mikey Wagner, on the way to a 63-41 victory over No. 6 Woodstock Academy in the quarterfinals of the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I boys’ basketball tournament.
“He’s the engine,” Fitch coach Charles Silvan said of Rivera. “I think they were tight. They’re still a young team. This is the first experience for these kids in the postseason. They missed it last year. The year before there was COVID. ...
“I didn’t talk about anything (at halftime). Lorenzo did. He just told them it’s now or never. He got the kids motivated. He was very impassioned. That’s why you hear the music (from the locker room). You can hear them in there now.”
Fitch, which trailed 11-10 after one quarter and 23-19 at halftime, advanced to the Division I tournament semifinals at 4 p.m. Saturday against No. 2 New London. No. 1 St. Bernard meets No. 4 Windham in the other semi at 6 p.m.
The Falcons were 7-13 in the regular season last year, 1-5 in ECC Division I and did not qualify for the state tournament. They finished 8-14 overall, with a split in the ECC Division I tournament.
This season, Fitch dropped to Division II for the regular season, finishing 16-4 overall and 8-0 in league play. Thursday’s win made it 17-4.
The Falcons outscored Woodstock 23-6 in the third quarter to take a 42-29 lead, with 15 by Wagner. Wagner had 18 points, including five 3-point field goals, freshman JJ Robinson had 17 points, eight assists and five steals, and Jacob Francis 11 points.
Rivera, the engine, had seven steals.
The start of the third quarter went like this: Rivera scored on the front end of a fast break assisted by Robinson off a Woodstock turnover and Wagner drilled a 3 to put the Falcons up 24-23. Woodstock took a 30-second timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, with Fitch pressing, Rivera engineered a steal. Then another. Wagner, open on the left baseline, was fouled shooting a 3-pointer and converted all three free throws.
Wagner finally capped the 18-0 run with his fifth 3 of the night with 2:59 remaining in the third.
In the fourth quarter, Robinson had one of his steals with Rivera originally harassing the Woodstock ballhandler.
With 2:49 to play, Fitch had three straight opportunities to convert on three-point plays, with Zander Timmerman, Rivera and Robinson each fouled on the front end of the fast break. It converted two of them.
Silvan subbed out his starting five with 1:22 to play.
“We definitely came out slow. I mean, understandable. This is my first time playing in a big game like this, ECCs,” said Rivera, who was on the junior varsity roster last season. “I think everybody was just a little nervous to start.
“I just told them, we ended the season on a six-game win streak. We can’t think of this game as any different. We need to keep the same energy we had all season. I just told them stay strong and just keep focused on the goal. ... We can’t think about last year. It’s a new year.”
Silvan said he tells his players that all season long they’ve been climbing a mountain.
“Now that it’s postseason, we just left base camp,” Silvan said. “So now the real mountain. The real climb, the treachery starts now. We have a young group. Every day is a new experience. We’re building.”
Brandon Nagle had 13 points for Woodstock (7-13).