MERIDEN – D.J. Ransom drove to his left like he has done so many times in his remarkable career.
He took it to the hole and hit the shot as the whistle blew for the foul. He made the free throw and gave No. 3 Wilcox Tech an improbable lead after the Indians had trailed by 13 points to start the fourth quarter.
Nick Milslagle canned a pair or free throws with 10 seconds to go and No. 6 SMSA missed a desperation three at the buzzer to send the majority of the packed house at Platt High School into pandemonium in celebration.
The No. 3 Wilcox Tech boys basketball team is back in the state semifinals for the first time in over four decades with a 70-67 win over the No. 6 Tigers on Monday night in the CIAC Division IV quarterfinals.
“At halftime I told the guys, ‘All season you’ve made me a believer; I don’t know what happened in that first half, but that wasn’t us. Let’s go out there in the second half and play the way that got us here and make me a believer again,’” said Wilcox coach Randy Farkas amid the on-court swirl that followed the final horn. “And, oh my God, I’m elated.”
The Indians, now 22-3, will face No. 26 Rocky Hill (11-12) in Wednesday’s semifinals at a site to be named. Win there and the Indians will be playing for a state championship this weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena.
On Monday night, Ransom was a star with 27 points. The one Wilcox Tech reserve who saw action, Derek Strillacci, was also critical. The junior drilled four treys on his way to 13 points. John Soto was also a force in the paint with 15 points.
The heroic performances were across the board for the Tribe as Milslagle poured in eight points.
For SMSA, Robert Doucette hit buzzer-beating treys to end the first and third quarters. His 3-ball that ended the third gave the visitors their biggest lead to that point, 57-44.
That deficit seemed too much for the Indians to overcome despite great efforts in the paint by Pawlik and Soto.
Then Ransom drilled a 3-ball with 2:54 left in regulation to get the Tribe within, 63-57 with 2:54 left, the closest they have been since mid-third quarter.
A Soto layup and a Ransom free throw capped a 7-0 run for the Indians that brought the Tribe to within 63-30.
Milslagle’s 3-point attempt with two minutes to go would have tied it. Instead, the Tigers countered with four straight points to go back up 67-60.
But their struggles against Wilcox Tech’s trapping defense kept the Indians alive.
The Tribe forced turnovers and finished the game on a 10-0 run over the final 1:15.
Strillacci started it with a trey. Then Ransom collected a steal and went to the line and knocked down both as the Indians drew within two with 44.7 left.
The Indians set up another half-court trap and Bryce McClendon and Ransom forced a travel that gave the ball back to the Indians. Ransom made SMSA pay with the decisive 3-point play.
Tre Bailey missed a shot for the Hartford school. Milslagle was perfect from the line and the Tigers missed their last chance as Milslagle secured the rebound and tossed the ball down court as the final seconds ticked off.
Guard Nasir Williams paced the Tigers (18-7) with 28 points. SMSA big man Justin Wright fouled out with 3:22 left and left a big hole in the paint.
This was Wilcox Tech’s first quarterfinal appearance since 1981-82 season.