The Chieftains took down Plainfield Monday night to force a rematch with Capital Prep in the Division III state tournament second round on Wednesday.
By Marlon Pitter
Hosting its first state playoff game in nearly a quarter-century, No. 14 Conard trounced 19-seed Plainfield 76-45 in the Division III Tournament first round Monday night in West Hartford.
Connor Olechna led the Chieftains with 19 points, while Peter Simplicio and Arsen Shtefan added 14 and 11, respectively, to give Conard its first home state tournament win since 1996. The victory sets up a rematch against No. 3 Capital Prep Wednesday night in the second round.
“What we’ve been preaching since our last game was to play totally unselfish, trust one another, and be disciplined,” said Conard head coach Jared Leghorn. “We did that for almost 32 minutes tonight. We moved the ball to the next guy. We trusted that when we pass it, we’re gonna get it back in a better scoring position, and that’s what it comes down to for us.
“We have plenty of guys that can score the ball. It’s being able to trust one another, that everyone’s going to make the best decisions for the team, and we did that tonight.”
Plainfield scored first, but Conard took a 10-2 lead five minutes into the game. Chase Fountain scored before the first-quarter buzzer to give the Chieftains a 21-10 lead.
— Marlon Pitter (@marlonpresents) March 9, 2020
Olechna made a layup to open the second quarter, as Conard pushed its lead to 31-15 near the midway point. The Panthers cut the deficit to 10 points late the second but trailed 37-23 at the intermission after a 6-2 run by the Chieftains.
“I was just trying to be as aggressive as possible while also getting my teammates involved,” Olechna said of his performance. “I’ve always been a shooter, but I’ve tried more and more to get to the basket because, obviously, it works. By doing that, I can get other teammates open too.”
Conard continued to dominate in the second half, stretching the lead to 20 points in the third quarter as Evan Smart drained a long ball to make it 50-30 at 3:24. The Chieftains maintained the 20-point advantage, leading 54-34 heading into the fourth quarter.
Olechna connected from deep to kick off an 18-0 run early in the fourth quarter to go ahead 72-34. With reserves in, Panthers shooters connected on three 3-pointers, outscoring the Chieftains 11-4 over the final 2:15, but the Conard lead was insurmountable.
Bruce Carchidi led Plainfield with 12 points in the losing effort.
Final: @CHSWHAthletics 76, Plainfield 45. Conard gets a rematch with No. 3 Capital Prep in the second round on Wednesday. First home state playoff win since 1996 for the Chieftains. #WeHa #ctbb pic.twitter.com/3kJVqMBEK2
— Marlon Pitter (@marlonpresents) March 10, 2020
Looking ahead to the Trailblazers, Leghorn said Capital Prep’s style of play will be different but the team’s experience from the regular-season meeting should bode well for the Chieftains.
“It’s a very different team [than Plainfield] where they’re gonna pressure for 32 minutes, full-court, and that’s why we were so successful last time,” said Leghorn. “We were able to handle the pressure, break it, and then get good looks on the offensive side, so that’s obviously going to be huge, and then boxing out is obviously going to be huge because they’ve got a lot of length and size.”
After improving to 9-2 at home this season despite playing on the road since Feb. 10, the Chieftains look to build on their momentum moving forward. Conard will likely be on the road for the rest of the tournament, but the expectations remain high for Leghorn.
“We’re trying to build a program that’s sustainable over time,” he said. “Good teams get home state games. Good teams win these games, and now we’ve gotta go win on the road to become a program. Programs win on the road.”
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!