By MICHAEL LETENDRE
HARTFORD – The last thing the St. Paul boys basketball coaching staff should have done after its 71-64 second round loss to Classical Magnet on Saturday, March 9 was to second guess itself.
Every coach does it after a loss but the Falcons did just about everything it could, as the 15th seeded squad in the Class S bracket, against the second rated team in the fray.
Frankly, St. Paul kept Classical coach Reggie Tucker out of his seat throughout the game and it took some huge stops by the Gladiators to finally secure the showdown.
Regardless of the final score, the game was up for grabs late and that’s all you could ask for in a serious hardwood battle.
“Was it a good match up for us? I don’t know if we had a good match up in the tournament,” said Phelps of the Classical Magnet pairing. “We’ve certainly seen our guys had prepared and prepped but you’ve still got to play the game.”
First, rewind back to the first round game for the Falcons – against No.18 Thomason which was a squad St. Paul lost to 66-50 on January 30 – on March 5 from Bristol.
Critical adjustments were made in that rematch and St. Paul simply didn’t allow the 3-pointer shooters to get any clean looks and that went a long way in the Falcons 59-52 win over the Golden Bears.
Four days later, St. Paul took on a quicker team in the form of Classical and at points, it was a challenge to maintain that up-tempo pace.
And then, trailing 56-39 with 7:37 left to play, St. Paul picked up its defense, Classical started to make mistakes and good things began to happen for the visiting team offensively.
But seemingly every time the Falcons were poised to make it a one possession game, the Gladiators hit a clutch lay-up or zipped in a basket to change the momentum of the showdown.
“We tried to mix things up a little bit and once they (Classical) seemed to get comfortable, we went on a bit of a run and it seemed liked he (Trifon Bish) kept making a (big) hoop to space them,” said Phelps of Bish. “That kid killed us early.”
At one point, a put-back from D.J. Rodriguez cut the deficit to 66-62 and that big 23-10 burst by the Falcons made it a four-point game.
St. Paul, however, just couldn’t get over the hump and eventually fell by seven.
“We’re disappointed to be going home and not coming back to the gym tomorrow,” said Phelps. “But we’re not disappointed…I believe we lost to a pretty good team.”
Classical was impressive indeed but if the Falcons somehow got past the Gladiators, St. Paul would have traveled to a very familiar place.
Classical, off the victory over the Falcons, battled Kolbe Cathedral – a team St. Paul lost to last year in state tournament play – in Hartford on March 11.
Classical dropped a hard fought 53-47 battle to Kolbe and that squad was virtually the same team St. Paul played in 2012 but was a year older and a whole lot quicker.
Kolbe fell in the semifinals to Granby Memorial on March 13, 56-54 in a very entertaining affair in a contest played at Plainville High School.
Who knows how far St. Paul could have gone if they got by Classical but no matter which way you slice it, it was another fun jaunt by the Catholic school from Bristol.
“It’s about the ride,” said Phelps of the 23 games his team ended up playing. “It’s a phenomenal group to be around. These kids are passionate, sacrificed, and (while) I’m very disappointed it’s over, I’m extremely proud of the group of guys.”