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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Wheeler’s run ends in the Division IV semifinals

    Wheeler’s Zane Brewer (34) goes up for a shot against Cheney Tech’s Dazhaun Copeland (5) during the Division IV state tournament semifinals for boys' basketball on Tuesday at NFA. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Wheeler’s Nathaniel Mayne (2) comforts his teammates Jayson Krysiewicz (33) and Zane Brewer (34) in the final minutes of the Division IV state tournament semifinals for boys' basketball against Cheney Tech on Tuesday at NFA. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Wheeler’s Deondre Bransford (5) and Jayson Krysiewicz (33) fight for control of the ball against Cheney Tech’s Dazhaun Copeland (5) during the semifinals for boys' basketball on Tuesday at NFA. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Wheeler’s Deondre Bransford (5) and Cheney Tech’s J’roose Orbe (2) and Kanye Pitts (15) fight for control ob a loose ball during the Division IV state tournament semifinals for boys' basketball on Tuesday at NFA. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Wheeler’s Kyle Kessler (1) goes up for a shot and has the ball stripped away by Cheney Tech’s J’roose Orbe (2), partially blocked from view, during the Division IV state tournament semifinals for boys' basketball on Tuesday at NFA. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Norwich — It began last week in the “gymatorium,” the fabled gathering area at Wheeler High that fits all 222 of them. Then it was off to Fitch, where Wheeler West not only filled all 1,200 seats, but resembled a church social after the game, nobody in a hurry to leave.

    A bit of irony happened upon the Little School That Could, the next step Tuesday night at Norwich Free Academy, where the Lions rarely play basketball because of enrollment issues between the smallest and largest schools in the conference.

    But it was the final step between Wheeler and a return engagement at Mohegan Sun, where history was made two weeks earlier with a conference tournament title.

    And while the Lions were responsible for some possible ECC history — selling out the third different ECC gym within a week — their run ended, following a 60-43 loss to No. 4 Cheney Tech before 1,050 fans.

    Wheeler ends its season at 20-7 with an ECC Division title, Division II tournament title and a trip to the state semifinals.

    “That’s an athletic team,” Wheeler coach Stephen Bailey said. “They speed you up. We played the game at their tempo, not ours.”

    Daminic Gittens, the only senior, led the Chargers with 25 points. Ayden Brookins had 13. Overall, seven different players scored.

    “All the blessings to Wheeler,” Cheney Tech coach Ismael Caro said. “They play hard. We knew they would.”

    Camo leads the first technical school into the state basketball finals since 2010, when Prince Tech made Mohegan Sun.

    “Our motto all year was “49.2,” Caro said, alluding to the number of miles separating Cheney Tech’s campus from Mohegan Sun Arena.

    Kyle Kessler led Wheeler with 14 points and Zane Brewer had 13 before fouling out.

    Gittens, some of whose relatives hail from New London, scored his team’s first eight points and gave the Chargers an early lead. Wheeler stabilized the game for a bit in the second period cutting the eventual deficit to 10, but Brookins made three consecutive three-pointers, the third of which gave Cheney a 35-18 lead, the lead it held at halftime.

    The Chargers shot 15 for 30 in the first half.

    Wheeler didn’t get closer than 11 in the second half.

    “History remains unchanged,” Bailey said. “A 20-win season. Back to back (regular season) division titles. The Division II (tournament) championship at Mohegan Sun. A trip to the semifinals. That’s all unchanged. People will be chasing us.”

    m.dimauro@theday.com

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