Conard hosted Northwest Catholic at home in West Hartford Monday night.
By David Heuschkel, West Hartford Press Sports Editor
After battling for more than four quarters against Northwest Catholic, a team that some coaches in the CCC predict will win the Division III state championship, some of the Conard players fought back tears in the locker room.
A 56-52 overtime win by Northwest on Monday night was certainly a hard-fought win by the Lions as much as it was a hard-fought loss by the Chieftains.
“I was just so proud of our kids,” Northwest Catholic coach John Mirabello said after his team improved to 10-1. “Sometimes during the season you have to just gut it out, find ways to win. It wasn’t pretty – we just kept making mental mistakes, turning the ball over, but that happens. It’s part of the season, but we overcame it.”
Conard dropped to 8-4.
“I told them in the locker room my takeaway is whether we won or loss, it’s all about perspective on the length of the season,” Conard coach Jared Leghorn said. “Had we won, it doesn’t make us state champs. Even though we lost, it doesn’t mean we can’t make a run [in the state tournament] in March. We just need to show up and get better tomorrow regardless what the outcome was because it’s January 27th and we have a long season to go.”
Northwest Catholic sophomore Matt Curtis scored a game-high 21 points, his last two coming on a pair of free throws in a 1-and-1 situation to make it 56-49 with 18 seconds remaining. Senior Guy Ragland Jr. scored 12 points, including five in OT, and senior Selwyn Paul added 10.
Conard had a more balanced scoring attack with Arsen Shtefan (14 points), Peter Simplicio (13), and Connor Olechna (13) leading the way. Gianmarco Nosiglia had nine points.
Shtefan forced overtime by hitting a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. Northwest called a timeout with 3.1 seconds on the clock, but Curtis missed a long 3-point attempt as time expired.
Northwest Catholic never trailed in the 4-minute overtime. Ragland Jr. made a basket as he was fouled and hit the free throw, giving the Lions a 50-47 lead. Following a missed 3-point attempt by Shtefan, Paul scored on a drive to push the lead to five points.
A basket by Olecha trimmed Northwest’s lead to 52-49, but Ragland Jr. and Curtis both made a pair of free throws in the final minute.
“I’m just really proud of my team for the fight and just staying together. Regardless of what was happening on the court, we were all locked in as one,” Leghorn said. “I think we really bounced back well. No moral victory. We want to win. We’re proving each night out that we can play with anybody, including ourselves. We need to believe that.”
Mirabello said: “We knew they were going to play well and make plays. We said, ‘Just find a way, just gut it out, hang in there, make a play.’ ”
Since joining the CCC in 2009, Northwest Catholic has won 21 of the 22 games against Conard. Many of the scores were lopsided, including a 57-29 win by the Lions earlier this season.
Mirabello said the score in the previous game was a bit misleading. Conard led by eight points early and had a one-point lead at halftime, but Northwest outscored the Chieftains 26-7 in the second half to win convincingly.
“After the first Northwest game, I just said we don’t know what we’re going to be yet because we have so many part and so many moving pieces,” Leghorn said. “I know it sounds simple, but we’re just trying to improve every single day.”
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