Wheeler, Stonington to renew rivalry in ECC Division II boys' basketball final

Feb. 24—WATERFORD — Another team might have withered or melted under the circumstances, watching what was once a 24-8 lead early become a 40-33 deficit late in the third quarter.

But then Wheeler High had played 10 other games this season decided by five points or fewer. So what's a little adversity with only a trip to Mohegan Sun waiting?

"We were just looking for stop, score, stop," Wheeler coach Stephen Bailey said. "This group thrived."

Thrived, survived and advanced. And now the Lions make their first trip to Mohegan Sun Arena in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division II championship game, following a 58-53 win over Griswold.

Wheeler (16-6) meets Stonington, a 76-64 winner over Tourtellotte in the other semifinal Saturday at the Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse. The Lions and Bears will play Tuesday at 6 in the Division II final steamed live by GameDay.

"We beat a very good team today," Bailey said.

The Wolverines (13-9), who won the ECC Division III regular season title, stormed to a 7-point lead late in the third quarter, thanks mostly to sophomore Kolby Mills, who led his team with 22 points on four 3-pointers. But Wheeler held Griswold without a three-pointer in the fourth quarter.

Keith Zardies, one of just four Wheeler players to score, led the Lions with 17 points. Zane Brewer had 16, Kyle Kessler 13 and Deondre Bransford 12.

"We've been playing together since the third grade," Zardies said, alluding to the familiarity and experience the Wheeler players have with each other.

Now the Lions get a chance at some revenge on the Bears, who won the regular season meeting between the neighboring towns in overtime.

"We told the kids these games don't come down to scoring," Stonington coach Jay Wosencroft said. "They come down to toughness."

The Bears (16-6) had some trouble shaking the Tigers (13-9). Tourtellotte's Josh Carlson scored a game-high 29 points and Jake Patterson added 19, making for some uncomfortable moments for Stonington.

"These games are all about defense for us," said senior Alex DePerry, who keyed a late run in the third quarter with two steals. "On offense, we just have to move the ball. It can't be one pass and a shot."

Aaron LoPresto led the Bears with 23 points. Robbie Scavello had 22, DePerry scored 13 and Alex Nowak had 10