Following a victory against second-seeded St. Joseph in the Round of 16 of the FCIAC Tournament, the scene was set for the Greenwich High School boys basketball team to eliminate another higher-seeded squad, as it held a four-point fourth quarter lead against host Fairfield Warde in the tournament’s quarterfinals.
When the buzzer sounded to end the fourth quarter, the Cardinals found themselves embroiled in another tense tie and it was time to go into overtime – a familiar scenario for Greenwich.
Edged twice already in overtime this season heading into their postseason matchup against the Mustangs, the Cardinals lost another nail-biter on Friday, a defeat that ended their season.
Holding 15th-seeded Greenwich scoreless in overtime, No. 10 Warde posted an exciting 46-42 victory to advance to the FCIAC Tournament semifinals. The Mustangs will visit seventh-seeded Westhill in Tuesday’s 6 p.m. semifinal-round.
The Cardinals finished their season with a record of 4-9, but as they proved, that mark is deceiving. Greenwich lost three games that were decided in overtime and two other matchups by one point.
Greenwich had almost as many games as it had practices. The team was in quarantine for a two-week period during the regular season due to COVID-19 precautions.
“We’ve had 14 practices this year because of the COVID situation and sometimes, it shows,” Greenwich coach Todd Trimmer said. “We have a real tough time finishing games, baskets, knocking down free throws. We have struggled on the offensive side of the ball, but we got good looks. We needed more gym time, but this team gave us their heart and soul every single night and defensively we stopped everybody. We only gave up 46 points in an overtime game today, which was another great effort by our team.”
Senior forward Robert Bettes helped power Warde to the win. The 6-foot-4 Bettes scored a team-high 14 points, including two 3-pointers and grabbed key rebounds on both ends of the floor.
“It feels great, we were doubted a lot at the beginning of the year, because we lost a few key players,” Bettes said. “We had some rough losses at the beginning of the year, but we got it together the second half of the year and it feels great to be going to the semifinals.”
Greenwich was ignited by a 17-point performance from James Pilc, who sent the game into overtime by calmly making a clutch turnaround baseline jumper with 3.2 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Senior forward Mason Muir and junior forward Chason Barber had four points apiece and senior guard A.J. Barber made a 3-pointer for the Cardinals.
“We were supposed to play Greenwich last Saturday, but we never got a chance to play them and I scouted them before, so I knew they were a dangerous team coming into the playoffs,” Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. “You could see that they were starting to get into a flow at the end of the year.”
The Cards had the size advantage on the Mustangs, who are a guard-heavy squad. So Fairfield Warde knew it took a team effort to crash the offensive and defensive boards and also focused on defending the low post.
“You have to be tough, they are going to push you around and box you out, but you have to be tough and get the ball,” Warde senior guard Ethan Mangano said. “Everyone had to contribute.”
With the score tied at 42-42 after four quarters of action, Bettes gave Warde the lead for good when he banked in a runner in the lane with 2:55 to go in overtime. Greenwich was held scoreless in overtime and after Bettes’ basket, the Mustangs successfully took time off the clock by moving the ball around the perimeter.
“Rob throughout the whole game, he took it upon himself to take control and do what he needed to do both offensively and defensively,” Swaller said of Bettes.
The Cards faced a 34-29 deficit following a putback by Warde sophomore forward Jack Plesser early in the fourth quarter, but the visitors went on an 8-0 run to seize a four-point lead.
Sophomore guard Dean Brown made a layup, Arnold drove to the basket in traffic and scored and Pilc swished a 3-pointer, after making a pair of free throws, putting Greenwich ahead, 38-34 with 3:44 left in the fourth quarter.
Consecutive baskets by Warde senior guard Jon Gladstone, both off steals, knotted the score at 38-38 with just over two minutes remaining in the final quarter. Junior forward Chason Barber scored in the low post for Greenwich, making it 40-38, but Vial tied it up for Warde, turning a steal off an inbounds pass into a basket. He also put the Mustangs ahead, converting a layup with 14.8 seconds left in regulation.
“I felt that shot was going to give us some momentum,” said Pilc, a junior. “A lot of our guys played a lot of minutes, so we were a little tired at the end. There were some long possessions that wore us down.”
The Cardinals, who knocked off second-seeded St. Joseph in the tournament’s Round of 16, were playing their best in the postseason.
“That definitely helped knowing that we can win and will next year, it definitely gave us confidence. The turnovers hurt us tonight, especially in the first half. We definitely could have held down the turnovers.”
Arnold scored eight first-half points, while Pilc scored 10 points during the second half. Pilc also swished three 3-pointers for the Cardinals, who trailed 21-19 at halftime.
“Pilc is one of the toughest players on this team,” Trimmer said. “He did not want to lose this game. He came up with some big shots and he is going to have a phenomenal senior year.”
The matchup marked the final game for the Cardinals’ seniors: Arnold, A.J. Barber, Muir, Tommy Harford and James Rinello.
“What a senior group, A.J. Barber is an all-state athlete who gives you everything he has. He leads by example and he’s been our glue guy defensively,” Trimmer said. “Mason Muir, same thing with him, he was a glue guy defensively. Dan Arnold was a huge leader for us this year and point scorer and Tommy Harford and James Rinello were big leaders for us off the bench and in practice.”
Said Harford: “It was really fun, I’m really proud of how we came out this season, despite all the adversity we faced. It was great to be a part of the team. We made a big improvement from last year and we came out and believed that we could beat anybody.”
Added A.J. Barber: “It was definitely an interesting season. We had a span of about 10 days with eight games and we didn’t have many practices. I’m grateful to be a member of this team. During this game, we all came together. Everyone on the floor could feel the energy on the bench and it was so meaningful for us on the floor.”