Conard sweeps the season series with crosstown rival Hall and looks to prepare for a first-round matchup in the CCC Tournament.
By Marlon Pitter. Photos by Ronni Newton
For the Conard boys basketball team, Monday night’s matchup with crosstown rival Hall had more at stake than West Hartford bragging rights.
Entering 11-8 with a state tournament berth in hand, the Chieftains needed a win to sweep the season series with the Warriors, clinch a home Division III playoff game, and stay alive for Central Connecticut Conference Tournament contention.
Behind a game-high 26 points from senior Arsen Shtefan, Conard defeated Hall 69-64 to accomplish all three goals and gain momentum heading into the postseason. Connor Olechna and Peter Simplicio also scored in double figures with 18 and 14 points respectively.
“This was a huge, huge win for us,” said Conard head coach Jared Leghorn. “There’s no understating it. We want to establish ourselves as a program that competes year to year, and programs that compete year to year get home states games, they make the CCC Tournament, and that’s what we … did.”
Conard and Hall traded baskets early, but the Chieftains took a 12-6 lead with 3:30 left in the first quarter. Conard went on a 7-2 run over the last 1:26 to take a 19-11 advantage after one.
After a Warrior bucket to open the second-quarter scoring, the Chieftains scored eight consecutive points to go ahead 28-13 at the 4:37 mark. Hall kept pace in the second half of the period and drew closer with two 3-pointers in a 30-second span to make it 33-26.
Olechna answered for the Chieftains with a 3-pointer at the 44-second mark, while Makyle Ramos made a free throw for the Warriors to cut the margin to 36-27 at halftime.
Hall scored the first five points of the third quarter to come within four, down 36-32 at the 6:37 mark. Conard pushed the lead back to 11 with a 10-3 run to go up 46-35 midway through the period.
The Warriors cut the deficit to six, but Shtefan made a deep ball with four seconds left to put the Chieftains up 51-42 after three quarters.
— Marlon Pitter (@marlonpresents) February 25, 2020
Hall battled back incrementally in a high-scoring fourth quarter. Despite trailing by 10 just before the five-minute mark, Ramos made a layup to cut the deficit to 63-59 with 1:38 to play.
Down seven, Matt Walker made a 3-pointer to trim the lead to four, 66-62, with 37 seconds remaining.
While the Chieftains made just three of their final six free throws, the Warriors only mustered an uncontested last-second layup to finish the game.
Walker, Ramos, and Max Johnston scored in double figures for Hall with 19, 15, and 11 points respectively.
Hall was already eliminated from postseason contention before Monday’s contest and finishes the season 6-14 following the loss. The Warriors had rattled off three consecutive wins – including a marquee victory over Northwest Catholic – during a positive stretch to end the season.
“We’ve battled all year,” said Hall head coach Bryan Moretti. “Even when we couldn’t make a basket, we battled all year. I’m happy with our guys’ effort. They played great, Conard. Arsen [Shtefan] just killed us, and Simplicio down low is so tough, such a bad matchup for us.
“We made the game a little bit more complicated than we have over the last couple games, I thought, and just didn’t play great. They played way better than us.”
Playing in their final game at Hall, Moretti said his seniors – Joe Hussey, Will Fox, Pat McGann, Noe Ruelas, and Jack Del Coro – left a significant impact on the program during their time as Warriors.
“Their leadership in practice and in school is just excellent,” Moretti said. “They’re class acts. I’m gonna miss ‘em.”
Finishing the regular season with a 12-8 record, Conard begins CCC Tournament play for the first time since 2005-06 on the road against one of the league’s top teams Thursday night. The Chieftains look to compete and gain valuable experience as they prepare to host a Division III state playoff game on March 9 regardless of the conference tournament results.
“Regardless of who we’re playing, it’s better than a practice for our states test,” Leghorn said. “You’re playing a really good team, and you’ve got a chance to do something, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Likewise, Shtefan and the Chieftains feel ready for their next challenge.
“Whoever’s next is next on our list,” said Shtefan. “Windsor, East Catholic. I’m ready to go.”
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