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    Sunday, March 26, 2023

    Poise through the noise: Saints rally into Division II quarterfinals

    Montville — Of all the howls that resonated through Powers Gym — and the old barn may not have hit this din since the days of Harold Pressley — the most significant Thursday night was the sound barely heard at all:

    The group exhale at the final buzzer.

    Oh, this was a toughie for St. Bernard, navigating deliberately deliberate New Canaan. But the top-seeded Saints, with poise through all the noise, survived 49-42 in the second round of the Division II state tournament.

    The Saints (22-3), seeking their first state basketball title since 1982, advanced to meet No. 8 (and eight-time state champion) Windsor in the quarterfinals Monday night at Powers Gym.

    “The last three years, we’ve been the team that would lose this kind of game,” senior Cedrick Similien said. “But bro, we just kept working. We knew this could be our last one.”

    St. Bernard, which trailed for more than 26 of the 32 minutes, took the lead for good with 4:25 remaining on Similien’s three-point play. Ryan Outlow followed with a three-point play before Tyson Wheeler’s 3-pointer with 2:44 left made it 43-36.

    “It’s harder to win against a patient team,” Similien said. “We’re aggressive. We like to make people nervous.”

    Speaking of: St. Bernard led 45-36 before consecutive 3s from Ty Groff and Griffin Bramwit brought the No. 16 Rams (coached by Connecticut College graduate Danny Melzer) within three at 45-42.

    Wheeler, Amyre Gray and Outlow made free throws for the Saints in the final 35.7 seconds.

    “They like taking time off the clock,” Wheeler said. “(GameDay play-by-play voice) Casey O’Neill said it best. When we’re bored, we don’t play very good basketball. But we’ve prepared for this moment.”

    Similien, Gray and Wheeler led the Saints with 14 points apiece. Santiago Lacayo led New Canaan with 16.

    “New Canaan is good at shortening the game,” St. Bernard coach Mark Jones said. “Less possessions. It was a contrast in styles. They want to slow it down and we want to speed it up. Give New Canaan credit. Really tough team.”


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