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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Saints repeat as ECC Division I champs

    St. Bernard’s Amyre Gray (4) hugs teammate Khyree Dudley (5) as they celebrate a win over Fitch during the ECC DI boys’ basketball final at Mohegan Sun Arena Tuesday, February 27, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Fitch’s Jayvon Robinson (1) puts up a basket against St. Bernard’s defense during the ECC DI boys’ basketball final at Mohegan Sun Arena Tuesday, February 27, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    St. Bernard’s Troy McKelvin (22) fights Fitch’s Jacob Francis (11) for a rebound during the ECC DI boys’ basketball final at Mohegan Sun Arena Tuesday, February 27, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Fitch’s Xavier Goode (3) attempts to move past St. Bernard’s Khyree Dudley (5) and Troy McKelvin (22) during the ECC DI boys’ basketball final at Mohegan Sun Arena Tuesday, February 27, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Mohegan — There was a palpable roar inside Mohegan Sun Arena for the night’s first game, perhaps leaving 4,034 fans anticipating whether Fitch could add to the drama in game two, snapping St. Bernard’s two-year winning streak within the Eastern Connecticut Conference.

    And then the Saints did what they’ve done for the last 30 league games: Zap every ounce of drama from the game, much to the delight of their players, coaches and fans.

    St. Bernard’s 30th straight conference victory earned it the 2024 ECC Division I Tournament title with a 72-39 win over Fitch at Mohegan Sun Arena. It was the Saints’ second straight Division I tournament title.

    “We’re getting close to where we want to be,” St. Bernard coach Mark Jones said. “We’ve been guarding. It’s hard to hold a team to 39 points. We still have a lot to prove and a lot to do. We haven’t proven anything yet. We want to be here (at Mohegan Sun for the state finals) again.”

    Tyler Mangual led the Saints with 15 points, while Curtis Marshall had 13, Amyre Gray 12 and Amare Marshall finished with 10. But it was perhaps the defense of sophomore Ty Grudzien who guarded Xavier Goode and J.J. Robinson’s — Fitch’s leading scorers — most of the night.

    “I was just trying to contain them,” Grudzien said. “They’re really good. To win this twice back to back is huge.”

    Goode led Fitch with 11 points.

    Six different St. Bernard players scored in the first eight minutes as the Saints ran to a 22-9 lead. Fitch responded with seven straight to get within six before St. Bernard used a 14-2 run to end the half and take a 36-18 lead. St. Bernard shot 52 percent (15-29) in the first half.

    The Saints then held Fitch scoreless for close to six minutes to start the third.

    St. Bernard swept the regular season series from Fitch, winning 78-70 at home in December and 82-66 at Fitch in January.

    The teams await the beginning of the state tournament next week. St. Bernard, ranked sixth in Division I, will play its first game against No. 11 Crosby. Fitch, ranked ninth in Division III, begins at home Tuesday against No. 24 Windham.

    • The International Association of Approved Basketball Officials (IAABO) Board 8 presented four players from the region with $1,000 scholarships during the game. The winners: Hunter Rafala (Hale-Ray), Tyler Betsey (St. Thomas More), Cassie Rice (Ledyard) and Olivia Kelly (Old Lyme)

    m.dimauro@theday.com

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