MERIDEN – Randy Farkas stood stunned for a few seconds in front of the Wilcox Tech bench on Monday night as the crowd at the Platt gymnasium erupted in celebration around him.
The final buzzer had gone off but it hadn’t sunk in yet. His No. 3 Indians overcame a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit to defeat No. 6 SMSA, 70-67, in the Division IV boys basketball state tournament quarterfinals. After about five seconds of shock, he was in the middle of the lengthy celebration of the Indians first semifinal appearance in 50 years.
“I just was in shock and then I got into the celebration,” Farkas said. “Yes. This is the biggest win of my career. Before this it was the Griswold game last week.”
The only team standing in the way of the Indians making the state finals for the first time since 1955 is No. 26 Rocky Hill (11-12). The two teams will tip in the Division IV semis on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Waterbury’s Wilby High School. The Terriers won by the same score as Wilcox Tech did on Monday night, 70-67. But they earned their victory in OT. Like the Indians, Rocky Hill dug out of a 13-point fourth quarter hole to stun St. Bernard.
Wilcox Tech junior D.J. Ransom scored a team-high 27 points against SMSA to push his season total to 630. He surpassed Wilcox alum and former head coach Rich Pasinski's single-season city record of 619, a mark that stood since 1968. Pasinski was an all-state player that year. The 1967-68 season was the last state semifinal appearance for Wilcox Tech, when they fell to eventual champ Middletown in the Class M brackets.
In Wilcox Tech’s 59-52 second round win over No. 14 Griswold on Friday night, the Indians overcame a seven-point deficit with 4:30 left in the game. The Tribe trumped that on Monday. After a sluggish third quarter, the Indians trailed by 13 to start the stanza. As the minutes ticked down, it didn’t look much better. They still trailed by 10 (63-53) with 3:22 left in regulation and forward Will Pawlik had fouled out. The were still behind seven with 1:30 to go.
“I’m never going to play man-to-man trailing in the closing minutes and let them run out the clock,” Farkas said.
The Indians trapped the Tigers ever possession down the stretch and made it difficult for them to drain clock. The plan worked as the SMSA turnovers piled up and the visitors helped by going 4-for-10 from the line in the fourth.
Down 63-53, Wilcox Tech scored seven straight points in the next 57 seconds that included a trey by D.J. Ransom and a John Soto layup. That run also included a Soto steal among three Tiger turnovers as the Indians clawed back within 63-60.
“We never felt out of it,” Soto said. “We kept fighting. I kept telling the guys not to give up because want to win. We kept fighting, fighting, fighting. When will fouled out we knew we needed to step up on the boards. We really wanted to make the semifinals. It means a lot.”
The Wilcox window seemed to close as Nasir Williams canned a elbow jumper with 2:01 left and Tre Bailey and Devon Daniels each split a pair from the line as the visitors went ahead 67-60 as the clock went under two minutes.
Junior reserve Derek Strillacci stalled that run with his fourth trey of the game. This 3-ball swished through the twine with 1:15 left, but the Indians still trailed 67-63.
“We try to get him to shoot like that every game,” Ransom said. “Some games he plays nervous but he came through when we really needed him.”
The Indians fouled Williams and he missed both at the charity stripe. Ransom got the ball back and took it and drew the foul with 44.7 left. the junior 1,000-point scorer came up clutch and canned them both as the Tribe cut the SMSA margin to 67-65.
The Indians then set up their 2-2-1 halfcourt trap and Ransom and fellow junior Bryce McClendon had a Tiger player in a tough spot near midcourt and ultimately Ransom came away with the steal.
That set up the biggest shot of the game.
“I couldn’t believe they were playing D.J. man-to-man in that situation,” Farkas said. “I just told them to go right to the hole and with as quick as D.J. is, there was no way they were going to stop him.”
As Farkas hoped, Ransom converted the layup to tie the game 67-67 with 27.7 left. But he was also fouled on the play. The lefty was composed at the line and drilled the free throw. The Indians had taken the lead, an edge they wouldn’t surrender.
“I had to drive it because it was open,” Ransom said. “Then I got fouled and hit the free throw, I knew we were going to win. It felt good. It’s hard to come back every time. We got rowdy on defense and they were scrambling. That’s how we got up.”
The Tigers had a clean look with 15 seconds. But Wilcox Tech earned possession and Nick Milslagle was fouled. The senior drilled both free throws with 11.9 remaining. SMSA had one tough look at the equalizer but Milslagle corralled the rebound and tossed the ball down the floor and the final seconds ticked off. Igniting a celebration not seen for a Wilcox Tech team in years.
“I was getting pushed around and everyone rushed the floor,” Pawlik said. “It was awesome. No we are on to the semifinal and trying to get to Mohegan.”
Wilcox Tech has never won a state title in boys basketball. The Indians were Class M runners-up in 1947 and 1955.
“You see the banners and plaques in the trophy cases with all the success the school had under Joe Schiopucie,” Farkas said. “He’s a legend. I hear so many stories about him and how hard he worked the kids when he was here. To put us back on the map is really exciting.”
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