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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Plenty of intrigue for ECC boys’ basketball title games

    Wheeler’s Kyle Kessler (1) drives the ball downcourt against Plainfield’s Brenden McCool (10) during the ECC Division II boys’ basketball quarterfinal Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, at Wheeler High School. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Stonington’s Alex Nowak (10) pulls in a defensive rebound against Griswold during the boys’ basketball game Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, at Stonington High School. (Dana Jensen/The Day).
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    Fitch’s Jacob Francis (11) pulls in a defensive rebound against New London during the ECC Division I boys' basketball semifinal game Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, at Waterford High School. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    It has been rare since the Eastern Connecticut Conference opted for two boys’ basketball tournament championship games at Mohegan Sun Arena that the Division II game commanded as much interest as Division I.

    Maybe that’s a hint to get there early Tuesday night. Wheeler and Stonington, bordering towns and neighboring rivals, meet in the Division II title game at 6 p.m. before St. Bernard and its 29-game ECC win streak meets Fitch at 8 for the Division I title. GameDay will stream both games live.

    Wheeler (16-6) and Stonington (16-6) have split a pair of two-point games in the last two regular seasons. The winner of the Battle For Exit 92 gets a trophy and some bragging rights.

    “Hopefully,” Stonington senior Alex DePerry said after Saturday’s semifinal win over Tourtellotte, “we finish 2-1.”

    “I can’t wait,” said Stonington coach Jay Wosencroft, who led the Bears to the 2022 title at Mohegan Sun. “Steve (Bailey, Wheeler’s head coach) and I are friends. We talked about (a potential Wheeler/Stonington title game) in the summer.”

    Wheeler advanced to the title game with a 58-53 win over Griswold, during which only four players scored: seniors Kyle Kessler, Keith Zardies and Deondre Bransford and junior Zane Brewer. But the Lions, who made the state Division V quarterfinals a year ago, have relied on their experience all season.

    “We’ve all been playing together since the third grade,” Zardies said. “We’ve waited four years for this.”

    Stonington used double-digit scoring from Aaron LoPresto (23), Robbie Scavello (22), DePerry (13) and Alex Nowak (10) to shake stubborn Tourtellotte.

    Fitch (15-6) won the season series from rival New London in Saturday’s Division I semifinals, using late three-pointers from Sik’is Reels and Xavier Goode to win 57-55. The Falcons’ task gets harder Tuesday, attempting to become the first ECC team since Waterford (in 2022) to defeat St. Bernard.

    “They’re very good,” Fitch coach Charles Silvan said of the Saints. “Very good. They present a great challenge.”

    So, too, do the Falcons. Fitch has an explosive backcourt with Goode and J.J. Robinson and center Jacob Francis, who had 11 points and eight blocks in the semifinals.

    St. Bernard, meanwhile, had no issues with Waterford on Saturday. The Saints have had few issues with any opponents from their own league, losing only to top 10 schools East Catholic (twice) and Windsor this season. They’re led by guard Amyre Gray, a long, athletic frontline with Amare Marshall, Curtis Marshall and Troy McKelvin Jr., as well as emerging guard Ty Grudzien.

    “Fitch is really good and really well coached,” St. Bernard coach Mark Jones said. “This is going to be a test.”

    m.dimauro@theday.com

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