Scoring one basket in the final seven-plus minutes is no sure-handed formula for winning a boys high school basketball game. When it comes in the quarterfinal round of the CIAC Class L state tournament, in the gym of a team that had reached the semifinals in two of the previous three years, it can be too much to overcome.
On Monday night, the Redcoats couldn’t solve their offensive problems in time, which signaled the end to their season of promise.
Berlin managed four free throws in the last seven-plus minutes and saw its one-point deficit grow into a 51-42 defeat at Lyman Hall in Wallingford, sending the host Trojans to the semifinals again. Lyman Hall, the No. 4 seed, will meet top-seeded Northwest Catholic-West Hartford on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain for the chance to move on to the state championship game. Northwest Catholic beat Bassick-Bridgeport 79-68 on Monday to reach the semifinals.
Bobby Mozzicato’s drive through the lane and layup in the first minute of the fourth quarter cut Lyman Hall’s lead to 39-38. But the Trojans’ defense stiffened, the fifth-seeded Redcoats couldn’t find good shots and Berlin’s defense couldn’t come up with enough big stops or force pivotal turnovers the rest of the way.
Mozzicato, who hit four three-pointers, led Berlin (19-6) with 16 points. Max DeLorenzo was the only other Redcoat in double figures with 14 points. Kevin Stritch and Mike Rector each had the next highest output with five points. Rich Bronson paced Lyman Hall (19-5) with a game-high 21 points. Jack McCarthy was second in scoring with nine points and Joe DeSandre, who did a shut-down job defending DeLorenzo, added seven points.
“We played hard but I think they out-executed us in the final four, five minutes," Berlin coach Mike Veneziano said. “We had our chances in the fourth quarter but you have to give the credit to them.
“Rich Bronson was just tremendous,” Veneziano said. “He was able to split the zone. He made shots just before the buzzer in two quarters. He did what he had to do. He made great plays.”
Bronson, the Trojans’ point guard, looked to pass first and penetrate second. His third choice was to shoot. But when he did, Berlin wasn’t too happy with wear the ball wound up. The first quarter and the third quarter ended each with a basket by Bronson in the final two seconds.
Bronson’s quarter-ending shot in the first period turned a 15-9 Berlin lead into a 15-11 lead entering the second quarter. Bronson’s period-ending shot in the third quarter turned a 37-36 Lyman Hall lead into a 39-36 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
After Mozzicato’s basket made it 39-38, the Trojans – state finalists in 2007-08 and semifinalist in 2008-09 – went on a 5-0 run for a 44-38 lead with 5:03 left in the game. DeLorenzo made two foul shots and it was 44-40 with 4:21 to play. DeLorenzo made another two free throws 20 seconds later and it was a two-point game at 44-42. Both times he was fouled by DeSandre, who did not start. DeSandre’s fourth-quarter defense on DeLorenzo, which yielded no baskets or assists by Berlin’s point guard, was the key to the game, according to Lyman Hall coach Mike Conner.
“He took it personal to go after DeLorenzo,” Conner said. “His defense on DeLorenzo really changed the game. He pressured them into not getting open shots. We forced them into taking a couple of bad shots and they missed some layups.
“We limited our turnovers and got rebounds. It sounds cliché but that’s how you win basketball games.”
Conner’s strategy was to have Lyman Hall attack the middle of Berlin’s 3-2 zone. “We also wanted to attack the corners of their zone,” Conner said. “I wanted to see no jump shots [by us], just all layups and Bronson did a great job of that.”
Veneziano said Berlin had trouble running its man offense against Lyman Hall. “We had a hard time getting the shots we wanted to take. We wanted to spot Bob (Mozzicato) up for three-pointers but we could not get him the ball at the end. I thought we would have him and Max in mismatches,” Veneziano said.
Berlin made 12 of 14 foul shots. Lyman Hall was 11 of 17 from the foul line.