MERIDEN — It was a season, and a player, we’ll be talking about for years.
While the Platt boys basketball team’s dreams of a state championship were dashed by Wednesday night’s 84-71 loss to Waterbury Career Academy in the CIAC Division III semifinals, the Panthers put together a season not seen on the West Side since 1997-98.
That year, the Panthers went 19-4 and reached the Class L state quarterfinals. One of their feature players was Jamel Riddle, who would finish with 1,455 career points.
Those 19 wins and Riddle’s 1,455 points stood as the program’s hallmarks for 25 years. Then along came the 2022-23 Panthers, led by Anthony Nimani.
Capping a four-year varsity career, Nimani scored a game-high 36 points in defeat Wednesday night, giving him a program-record 1,626 for his career.
As a team, Platt went 20-6.
“I’m proud of myself and proud of my teammates in how far we have come in the last four years,” Nimani said after playing in his final game as a Platt Panther. “I wanted to have an impact on the program and change the culture at Platt. We changed history.”
Indeed, this year’s trip to the Division III semifinals marked the furthest Platt boys basketball has ever advanced in the CIAC tournament. Ditto for the Panthers advancing to the semifinals of the Central Connecticut Conference Tournament.
“I’m proud of our guys; I’m proud of our seniors,” said Platt head coach Shawon Moncrief. “This was a special group of guys. They worked hard for the City of Meriden and have nothing to be ashamed of. This was just a tough way to go out.”
Waterbury Career, the No. 2 seed, used a balanced scoring attack led by Jason Canady (29 points) Andrew Williams (24), and Sonny Pierce (18) to turn back the No. 6 Panthers on Wednesday night in front of a sellout crowd at Naugatuck High’s Edward Mariano Gymnasium.
WCA never trailed after erasing an early 5-4 Platt edge, building leads of 28-18 after one quarter and 40-28 by the half.
Consequently, the Spartans advance to play top-seeded Bloomfield in Sunday’s Division III final at Mohegan Sun Arena at 3 p.m.
Both teams go in at 23-3. Waterbury Career is the Naugatuck Valley League champ, Bloomfield the CCC runner-up to East Catholic, which meets rival Northwest Catholic in the Division I final on Saturday night.
In all, 10 state championships will be decided this weekend at Mohegan Sun. Here’s the lineup for Saturday:
■10 a.m.: Girls Class M, No. 1 East Hampton vs. No. 3 Valley Regional;■12:30 p.m.: Boys Division V, No. 1 Windsor Locks vs. No. 6 Shepaug;■3 p.m.: Girls Class S, No. 10 Northwest Catholic vs. No. 16 Kolbe Cathedral;■6:15 p.m.: Girls Class LL, No. 1 Hamden vs. No. 2 Fairfield Ludlowe;■8:15 p.m. Boys Division I, No. 1 East Catholic vs. No. 2 Northwest Catholic.
The Class LL girls game between Hamden and Fairfield Ludlowe pits a pair of undefeated teams. Hamden is coached by former Southington Lady Knight Amanda Forcucci, who led Lauralton Hall to the Class LL crown in 2014.
Here’s the slate for Sunday:
■10 a.m.: Boys Division IV, No. 1 Cromwell vs. No. 3 Ellington;■12:30 p.m.: Girls Class L, No. 1 Pomperaug vs. E.O. Smith;■3 p.m.: Boys Division III, No. 1 Bloomfield vs. No. 2 Waterbury Career Academy;■6:15 p.m.: Boys Division II, No. 1 St. Bernard vs. No. 7 Staples;■8:15 p.m.: Girls Class MM, No. 4 Mercy vs. No. 6 New London.
This is Waterbury Career’s first-ever trip to the state finals. Bloomfield won last year’s Division IV title.
The Warhawks put themselves in position for a repeat by defeating No. 4 New London 78-59 in Wednesday night’s other Division III semifinal, played at New Haven’s Floyd Little Athletic Center.
In Naugatuck, WCA was hot early, shooting 5-for-7 from 3-point range in the first quarter behind two treys from Zaire Lott (9 points) and single 3-balls from Pierce, Canady and Williams.
“We haven’t had back-to-back bad shooting nights all season,” WCA coach Ronan Oleary said. “I told the kids we didn’t have a great shooting night (in the quarterfinals against Killingly) and I told the kids we were going to shoot well today.
“I wanted them to shoot with confidence. We thought it was going to happen and we made it happen tonight.”
Pierce continued the hot shooting for Waterbury with a 3-ball to open the second quarter as the Spartans took the biggest lead of the first half, 31-18.
Nimani said Platt simply didn’t bring it on defense.
“We could have played better defense all night and we didn’t start off the game great on defense,” Nimani said. “Defense and rebounding weren’t good. They had all of the energy and it was difficult to overcome that once we fell behind.”
Down by 13, Platt responded with a 7-0 spurt that included a pair buckets from Justin Black (11 points) and a drive from Nimani to close to within 31-25.
Pierce pierced that bubble, popping a 3-pointer to put the Spartans up 34-25.
Williams later hit two free throws as time expired in the first half as Nimani was whistled for his third foul after taking a charge on WCA’s previous possession.
WCA held a rebounding edge in the first half and hurt the Panthers with second-chance points.
The Spartans opened the third quarter on a 6-0 run to take their biggest lead of the game, 46-28, with a pair of hoops from Canady and a teardrop from Pierce.
Platt responded with a 6-0 spurt of its own with a drive by Nimani, a Jason Delevante deuce and a pair of free throws from Makhai Anderson to claw to within 46-34, but that proved to be the team’s last stand as WCA only extended its lead from there.
WCA finished the third quarter on a 16-5 run, with 12 of the 16 points coming from Williams, who had two 3-point plays in the spurt.
“That’s a really good team,” Oleary said. “We tried to figure out a way to stymie their premier point guard, so we played a 3-2 zone and we were keying in on him. We were also trying to keep the ball out of Anderson’s hands. He’s a tremendous player as well. I think we frustrated them.”
Anderson fouled out with 3:37 left in the game. The Platt junior forward had 10 points on the night and is likely to be in All-State consideration with Nimani. Both have already been named All-CCC South.
“I’m proud of what we did,” Moncrief said. “The guys worked their tails off since the beginning of the season. We fought until the very end.
“We are happy with our accomplishments, but we are sad with the way we ended it,” the head coach continued. “This is good experience for the younger guys and, hopefully, will build some momentum for next year.”