Boys basketball championship notebook: Old Lyme’s youth movement, Windsor’s Ken Smith back again

CROMWELL – A number of times this season, Brady Sheffield has been mistaken for a player on the Old Lyme boys basketball team.

“It started in the scrimmages, actually,” Sheffield said Thursday at the media lunch at the TPC River Highlands. “No one knew who the head coach was. We’re walking through a gym and I’m like, ‘I’m right here.’ They look at me – ‘Ohhh, OK, Coach.’ It probably happened 7-8 times this year.”

Sheffield is 21, a first-year head coach, only a few years removed from playing for the Wildcat team that went to the Div. V championship game his junior year and lost to Innovation (New Britain).

He’s back now as a coach with the third-seeded Old Lyme team, trying to get the school its first boys basketball championship. The Wildcats (19-6) will play eighth-seeded Coventry for the Div. V championship Sunday at 3 p.m.

“It’s not a problem – I know I don’t look much older than these guys,” Sheffield said. “That’s why I was growing my beard out, but I shaved it and now I look like one of the guys again.”

Sheffield, who graduated in 2020 and played on the team that went 19-1 before COVID restrictions shut down the state tournament, hopes this year is it.

“You never know what would have happened, but we would have liked to think we had a good shot at competing for it,” he said. “Didn’t end up happening but now we’re back and we have a chance to get it done.”

Sheffield was an assistant for Cromwell coach John Pinone last year so he got to experience the Panthers’ state title.

“I learned so much from him and he’s a big reason why I’m able to be ready to do this this year,” Sheffield said.

One of the Wildcats’ top players has been 6-3 freshman Edward Fiske Jr., who had 24 points in Wednesday’s 43-40 semifinal win over Litchfield at Xavier.

And a veteran is back

Windsor coach Ken Smith has been to the championship game six times before. Won four, lost two, including his last one in 2019 to East Catholic, 79-74.

His players, on the other hand, have not been to a final.

Second-seeded Windsor will face No. 12 West Haven for the Division II championship Saturday at 8:15 p.m. at Mohegan Sun.

“We have to mentally get them prepared,” Smith said. “You never know because this is the big moment. These guys, they were shocked walking into this place (the TPC River Highlands clubhouse) – ‘Whoa, what is this? We have made it.’”

Windsor, which won the CCC tournament championship, played New London at Mohegan Sun earlier this season.

“We’ve been to Mohegan but it’s not like it will be now,” Smith said. “There wasn’t nobody in the gym but New London fans. Now there’ll be a crowd, it’s gonna be crazy.”

Smith was talking about having a pep rally to fire up the kids but there would be no dunking. Last year, Windsor’s best player Anthony Williams broke his leg dunking during a pep rally. Williams is back this year and has been leading the team through the tournament.

“We’re going to walk out and say, ‘Yo, yo,’ Smith said. “No dunking. None of that.”

Lewis Mills overcomes slow start

Lewis Mills lost its first two games this season, to East Hartford and Windsor. But that did not deter the Spartans. Maybe it would have in the past.

“We just moved on,” Lewis Mills senior Charlie Joiner said. “The locker room was still upbeat. I think if we didn’t do that, we would have lost a lot more games.”

Lewis Mills won 11 of its last 12 regular season games and the second-seeded Spartans advanced through the Div. III tournament and now they will face No. 5 Bunnell in the state championship game Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Mohegan Sun.

“Our defense has kind of led the way,” Joiner said. “That’s kind of our mantra.”

Lewis Mills, which hasn’t been to a state final since the Spartans won the Class S championship in 1996, beat Fairfield Ludlowe 37-36 Wednesday night in the semifinal.

Innovation, Cheney Tech to face off in Division IV

No. 3 Innovation will face fourth-seeded Cheney Tech in the Division IV championship game Sunday at 10 a.m.

Innovation last won a title in 2019 in Division V. It’s Cheney Tech’s first trip to the finals and the first time a technical school has advanced to the championship since 2010.

“Last year, we lost in the quarters (of Div. V) and I know that’s been on their minds all season,” Innovation coach Matt Lance said. “Last year, it was a stated goal that we wanted to win a state championship; this year, it was just implied. We haven’t really talked about it. We focused on how we were going to get better to put us in that position.

“I knew we had that motivation after how last year ended.”

Senior Amari Cruz had 24 points in an 83-59 semifinal win over Weaver. Cruz, junior Ibrihim Sidik and senior Jamal Kulaib have led the team this season.

Cheney Tech will be “a tough team” to play, Lance said.

The Chargers are led by senior Da’mnic Gittens, who averages 23 points and nine rebounds per game and has broken multiple school scoring records this season.

“I think it’s going to be a defensive game for both teams,” Cheney Tech coach Ismael Caro said. “Both rely on the defense to carry their offense. I think it’s going to be a war in the paint between our bigs and theirs.”

Senior guard Da’mnic Gittens is serving up mac and cheese, dunks and assists at Cheney Tech