Lewis Mills drops St. Paul, advances to Class M semifinals
BURLINGTON - With a chip on their shoulder and a raucous crowd behind them, the Lewis Mills boys basketball team added yet another win to what has become a memorable season.
Nate Cook and Alexander Daigle each scored 18 points and the Spartans jumped out to a quick lead and never surrendered it in a 55-45 victory over St. Paul in a CIAC Class M state tournament quarterfinal Monday night at Lewis Mills High.
The top-seeded Spartans improved to 20-4 on the season and move on to the Class M semifinals on Wednesday where they will meet No. 12 Weaver (18-8) at New Britain High. The Beavers advanced to the semis with a 73-58 win at No. 4 Bacon Academy. Seventh-seeded Waterford and No. 5 East Catholic will meet in the other Class M semifinal at a site to be determined.
"It was a great win in a great atmosphere," Lewis Mills coach Todd Kozak said. "I don't think many people believed in us, a lot of people said we are no one seed and in Class M you want a tech school or a BL school in the first round. But the 16 guys in that locker room believe and we continue to prove a lot of people wrong."
The Mills gym was jammed to capacity and then some with fans standing in any space they could find. Fans without tickets were being turned away from the doors a full half hour before tip off and the atmosphere inside was electric.
A big part of that is the Mills student section, dubbed the "Thunderdome" it has become one of the bigger and louder student sections in the area and was out in full force and full voice on Monday.
"Our student section has been great, all season," Kozak said. "They really show up and give us a great home atmosphere."
Instead of being overwhelmed by the environment and tight, Mills came out juiced up and ready to go. Cook hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight points in the first quarter as the Spartans jumped out to a 12-2 lead.
"We wanted to come out and get off to a hot start," Cook said. "We have nothing to lose. No one thinks we should do anything in the tournament so we just go out and play. And it was a great atmosphere, our student section is the best in the state and really gives us an advantage."
And don't think St. Paul didn't know it. According to Kozak, St. Paul's athletic director contacted the Lewis Mills AD about moving the game to a neutral site but the Spartans weren't having any of that.
"These kids busted their butts all season for that high seed, that's why you want it, to play these kinds of games in a home atmosphere like this," Kozak said.
St. Paul did not make a field goal until the game was 12 minutes old and a bucket in the lane by Reid Morin made it 18-6 Mills with four minutes to play before the half. The Falcons settled in a bit after that and made a run late in the second after a questionable technical on Kozak.
Down 25-10, St. Paul made two free throws and then hit a 3-pointer after getting the ball back. Another hoop by Austin Morin made it 25-17 but Mills senior Dan Kryzanski hit a huge three at the buzzer to put the Spartans up 28-17 at the break.
"That was a huge three, it stopped their run and gave us a big momentum boost heading into the second half," Kozak said.
In the end, Mills handled St. Paul's trapping defense pretty well and the Falcons just couldn't make a big shot when they really needed it to put the pressure on. The Spartans also were clutch at the foul line, shooting 27-of-33 as a team, including a perfect 12-for-12 from Daigle and 6-for-6 by senior Spencer Maloney.
"We showed some poise in the second half and knocked down free throws," Kozak said. "We learned something from the first tournament game against Suffield, when they came back on us late. Tonight we handled that situation much, much better."
Now the Spartans are a game away from a trip to Mohegan Sun with Weaver, the CCC Tournament champs, standing in their way.
"We know it is going to be tough, but that is to think about tomorrow," Kozak said. "This team has accomplished so much, going from six to 20 wins with the same group of kids, it's amazing and I am really proud of them."
St. Paul 2 15 10 18—45
Lewis Mills 12 16 12 15—55
St. Paul (45): Tyler Jones 3-1-7; Troy MiCale 2-0-5; Jake Kawiecki 1-0-3; Nick Vallani 0-6-6; Brendan Carroll 2-0-5; Reid Morin 4-1-9; DeJuan Rodriguez 0-3-3; Austin Morin 3-0-7; Totals: 15-11-45.
Lewis Mills (55): Spencer Maloney 0-6-6; Alexander Daigle 3-12-18; Danny Kryzanski 2-0-5; Nate Cook 7-1-18; Max Wadington 0-4-4; Justin Pease 0-0-0; Danny Wilcox 0-4-4; Ben Lewis 0-0-0; Totals: 12-24-55.
3-point goals: SP—MiCale; Kawiecki; Carroll; Morin. LM—Kryzanski; Cook 3.
Records: St. Paul 17-6; Lewis Mills 20-4.