MERIDEN – The Wilcox Tech boys basketball team typically goes no further than six men deep, yet showed no signs of fatigue down the stretch in Friday night’s 59-52 dispatching of No. 14 Griswold in the second round of the CIAC Division IV Tournament.
The No. 3 Indians turned up the heat on defense and were clicking on all cylanders in the final 4:30 to finish the game on a 20-3 run.
They did it in almost clinical fashion. D.J. Ransom became more aggressive and went to the hole at will and finished with 25 points. Fellow junior John Soto converted back-to-back buckets in the middle of the decisive spurt.
Will Pawlik was cleaning up the glass and fellow senior Nick Milslagle was a steadying presence when the moments were the biggest as the Indians earned their first state quarterfinal appearance since the 1981-82 season.
The Tribe were also clutch from the line, going 6-for-6 in the final 50 seconds.
“it’s awesome we have made it this far,” Pawlik said. “I’m very happy I made an impact here and people will remember us at school and as a team. Our strength this year is that all of our games really just compliment each other.”
The Indians will bring a 21-3 record into tonight’s quarterfinal against No. 6 Sport and Medical Sciences Academy. That game has been moved from Wilcox to the more spacious gym at Platt. Tip-off is 7:15 p.m.
SMSA advanced to the quarters with a 53-50 home win over No. 22 Foran on Friday. The Hartford school comes in with a record of 18-6.
“They are a deep team that can sub five at a time,” Wilcox Tech coach Randy Farkas said. “We have to stay out of foul trouble and have to be on top of our game.”
Farkas is confident in his boys, whose rotation is rounded out by junior starter Bryce McClendon and junior sixth man Derek Strillacci.
Soto said the team’s unselfishness has been the key to its success.
“We share the ball,” Soto said. “We always look for the open man. Sometimes we are slacking at the beginning of the game and we pick it up.”
In their second-round matchup with Griswold, the Indians did not panic despite facing a seven-point defiict in the closing minutes.
“We were struggling,” Farkas said. “We were having a hard time with their defense and we ran an overload on offense to try to free someone up and get some lanes.”
Once the Indians had the lead with under two minutes to go, they ran some clock. After a timeout with 1:54 to go, the Tribe ran off 1:04 before Ransom was fouled.
“We wanted the ball in the hands of our best free throw shooters,” Farkas said. “So we wanted to get D.J. to the line and also moved up Will because he’s one of our better free throw shooters.”
After the final buzzer sounded, Ransom said the victory was a huge one for the team.
“It feels great,” said Ransom, who now has 603 points on the season and is within sight of Wilcox Tech alum Rich Pasinski’s single-season city record of 619 points. “I’ve worked so hard for this. I’ve trained with my dad and we did this for our coach. For a good part of the game I was slacking on offense, but when we were down I felt I had to turn it up and score.”
The winner of tonight’s quarterfinal will face the survivor of No. 26 Rocky Hill vs. No. 2 St. Bernard in Wednesday’s semifinals.
“We just want to stay focused and play hard,” Soto said. “We want to get to the championship game. The next game is the most important thing right now.”
In the 1981-82 season, Wilcox Tech defeated Platt (75-63) and Wilby (73-58) on its way to the Class L quarterfinals before falling 71-59 to eventual state runner-up Crosby.
Wilcox Tech has never won a state title in boys basketball. The Indians were Class M runners-up in 1947 and 1955.