Boys Basketball Class L Championship
Sacred Heart 75, Notre Dame-Fairfield 53
By Ned Griffen
Special to CIACsports.com
UNCASVILLE — Isaiah Gaiter had 24 points and 11 rebounds as top-seeded Sacred Heart beat No. 2 Notre Dame-Fairfield on Sunday, 75-53, to win the CIAC Class L championship and its fourth straight title at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Hearts (28-0) finished the season as the state’s only unbeaten team. It won the Class S championship from 2014-15 and beat Notre Dame in last year’s Class M final (101-49).
Sacred Heart also joins Harding (1983-87), Cromwell (1967-71), Wilbur Cross (1958-61), and Hillhouse (1945-48) as the only boys’ basketball teams to win four straight CIAC titles. Westbrook girls’ program holds the overall state basketball record with six straight (1982-87).
This year’s Hearts were almost a completely new team with Raheem Solomon being the only one who started last year’s Class M final (then-junior Courie Stevenson came off the bench and scored 13 in that game).
Solomon was his team’s leading scorer this season but missed the entire state tournament due to a knee injury.
Yet Sacred Heart still won a state title — and went unbeaten.
“I think a lot of people had kind of counted us out, discounted us,” Hearts head coach John Carroll. “I could have been counted among them. But again, with every roadblock and every obstacle that got put up against my guys, they kind of proved me wrong, too.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this group. They accepted challenges. They accepted criticism. They left their egos at the door for the group. And it’s really one of the most enjoyable coaching experiences I’ve had.”
Rowe Omar had 18 points and nine rebounds for Sacred Heart and Legend Johnson added 10 points and nine rebounds. Stevenson added 10 points and four steals.
Tyler Bourne scored 24 for the second-seeded Lancers (25-3). Josh Reaves added 11 points.
The Hearts scored the game’s first eight points and never lost their lead.
Bourne’s 3-pointer cut Sacred Heart’s lead to 14-11 with one minute, 19 seconds left in the first quarter. It was the closest Notre Dame got the entire game.
Gaither and Peyton Stephens had successive tip-ins to give the Hearts a 36-26 halftime lead. They got to the rim the entire game and outscored the Lancers in the paint, 44-18. They shot 51.8-percent from the floor.
“We didn’t put bodies on guys when their shots are going up,” Notre Dame head coach Chris Watts said. “We didn’t box out too well. We let them get a ton of attempts at the rim, and that’s just a formula for a loss. … You can get away with it for a quarter or two, but not four quarters.
“I told the guys, ‘When you play defense against one of the best teams in the state of Connecticut and you don’t play defense the whole game, they’re going to look really good doing it because they’re a good team.’”
The Hearts also flustered the Lancers with their defense. ND shot 36.5-percent.
“We had to become a defensive team (when Solomon got hurt),” Stevenson said. “He averaged like 25 points. He was the man we went to when we needed a go-to bucket. And with him not there, it became a lot harder to put points on the board. With him gone, we grew into a defensive team.”
Watts said, “Those guys played man-to-man and they were there every time. … That was unbelievable. They were there on the help. They were there on the second-and-third pass. They’re well coached.
“I thought that their rotation that they displayed on defense was very good today.”