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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    St. B’s, with ease, makes first boys’ hoop final since 1982

    St. Bernard’s Cedrick Similien (1), Colin O'Leary (5) and Amyre Gray (4) celebrate during Wednesday night’s 76-53 win over Xavier in the semifinals of the CIAC Division II boys’ basketball tournament at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    St. Bernard’s Cedrick Similien (1) delivers a pass by Xavier’s Aidan Driscoll (33) in the CIAC DII boys’ basketball semifinals at Floyd Little Athletic Center Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    St. Bernard’s Ryan Outlow (15) goes up for a jump shot over Xavier’s Peter O'Brien (31) as head coach Mark Jones looks on during the in the CIAC Division II boys’ basketball semifinals at Floyd Little Athletic Center Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    St. Bernard’s Tyson Wheeler, right, pulls down a rebound over Xavier’s Colby Ciampi (15) and Aidan Driscoll (33) in the CIAC Division II boys’ basketball semifinals at Floyd Little Athletic Center Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    New Haven — A familiar refrain in the student sections of both schools: “God’s on our side” (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap). And not that any mere mortals could ever read the mind of The Divine, but Holy Headaches: Would it be Xavier or St. Bernard?

    Indeed, one of the subtleties surrounding the CIAC Division II boys’ basketball state semifinals Wednesday night was that a win didn’t just guarantee a berth to the state finals for someone, but earned the unofficial Norwich Diocese championship.

    Top-seeded St. Bernard, never threatened, dispatched more than its 50-year rival, 76-53, at the Floyd Little Athletic Center, sending the Saints to their first state title game since 1985.

    The Saints (24-3) will play in the Division II final either Saturday or Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena, their third game at Connecticut’s most famous arena this season. St. Bernard has already defeated Hand in The Day Holiday Classic at Mohegan in December, followed by New London in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I tournament championship game two weeks ago.

    And the Saints will get No. 7 Staples in the championship game. The Wreckers rallied from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime before stunning No. 3 Fairfield Warde 57-55.

    “Amazing. Words can’t describe how happy I am,” St. Bernard senior Cedrick Similien said.

    And it was Similien who led them, making his first five shots from the field, leading the Saints to leads of 13-3, 18-5 and 25-9. He finished with 30, including five 3-pointers.

    “Cedrick was unbelievable,” St. Bernard coach Mark Jones said. “He got us going early. I can’t say enough about him.”

    Jones said plenty to him, though, critiquing Similien’s defense most of the night. It was Similien’s job to guard Xavier’s leading scorer, Anthony Parker, who finished with 27. But Similien made him earn them all.

    “I’m used to getting yelled at,” Similien said, smiling. “Even in practice when the JV guys are scoring on me, I get yelled at. But they told me, ‘you’ve got to lock (Parker) up.’”

    Tyson Wheeler had 15, all one 3-point baskets, and Amare Marshall 11 for the Saints, who stumbled in this game last year against Hand.

    “The difference is that even as we were playing Hand last year, I kept thinking ‘we could get here next year,’” Similien said. “But now? We knew what we were getting into.”

    Jones: “Last year the kids learned a lot from that game. This year, they knew a loss means this is the end of the season. And the kids responded to that.”

    m.dimauro@theday.com

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