Wamogo storms into Division V state title game
WOLCOTT - It was a love-fest worthy of the 1960s, a euphoric sea of red that had blitzed the floor at Wolcott High’s Morris Gymnasium from all directions and was ready to hug anybody and anything and did just that with giddy smiles. Nobody was safe and nobody wanted to be safe.
Mohegan Sun will do that to you.
The heck with Hawaii the Bahamas and all those places with their pretty palm trees. Wamogo is going to Mohegan and you only get there by earning a shot at a state basketball title and the Warriors did all that Wednesday night with a scintillating 64-57 victory over top seed and previously unbeaten East Hampton.
The No. 4 Warriors will take on No. 3 Cromwell, a 65-44 winner over Canton, Saturday at 12:30 at the Sun for the Division V title. It will be Wamogo’s third appearance in the finals having lost to Old Saybrook, 69-49 in 2005 and to Cromwell, 82-50, in 1970.
“It’s been our dream, we’ve wanted to go our whole high school careers,” said the Warriors’ Garrett Sattazahn who overcame foul trouble to register a triple double with 20 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. “Now we get a chance to do that.”
“This is great, our kids have worked so hard,” said Wamogo coach Gregg Hunt as well-wishers stood in line for a hug, handshake, or just to relay their joy. “I guess these guys won’t make it to pitchers and catchers the next two days (Hunt coaches the Wamogo baseball team). I’m always thankful when you can make it this far.”
There were a multitude of big-time efforts but it was the Warriors’ poise in the final two minutes that made the difference between a run to the Sun or a plain old season-ending bus trip back to the school.
Tom Close (21 points) put East Hampton ahead, 55-54 with a driving layup and 2:21 to go. But if there were end of the game semifinals jitters they were scattered about the crowd because the Warriors handled it all like they had been there before.
Sattazahn got loose in the lane to put Wamogo back on top and then after an East Hampton miss Reid Turtoro (10 second half points) hit a crucial basket on a drive to put Wamogo up, 58-55 with 56 seconds left.
It was a huge play in East Hampton coach Parker Strong’s mind.
“We thought Reid pushed off on that play but they didn’t call it and he got the basketball,” Strong said.
East Hampton was unable to find the basket again, its only other points coming on two foul shots in the final seconds. Both Close and Zach Webber missed deep three-point attempts and Sattazhan was fouled on the rebound with 29.7 seconds left.
He canned both shots for a 60-55 lead. The Bellringers again found the basket off limits and Sean Coffey (13 points) scored in the lane for a 62-55 lead to seal the outcome with 16 seconds left.
“We didn’t want to go home,” said Turtoro of the Warriors spirited effort in the final two minutes. “We knew we were not done playing. We were calm and knew what to expect. (East Hampton) is the team we wanted all year and we showed what we could do.”
“All night the kids never got rattled,” added Hunt. “They battled back and battled back. The kids respected East Hampton but knew we could win if we played well and they are in great shape.”
It took some mighty big efforts for the Warriors to put themselves in a position to win at the end. A cold shooting first quarter (5-14) saw them trailing, 19-12 at one point.
But back to those big efforts. While Sattazahn was off the mark and on his way to foul trouble (three before the half) Ethan Collins took matters into his own hands. Collins drove to the hoop like it was a deserted highway and scored 14 of his 18 points
Collins scored 10 of his points in the second quarter and Sattazahn found some fire to drain a couple of three-pointers as Wamogo closed to 33-30 by the half.
“I was just taking what they gave me,” said Collins.
Hunt said Collins’ effectiveness was partly a result of an offensive change.
“East Hampton saw us play five times this season and every time we ran the offense above the foul line,” said Hunt. “Tonight we ran the offense below the foul line. We haven’t showed that much. With Colin on the perimeter they turned their back on him and then he drove.”
Collins effort was indicative as to what plagued the Bellringers all night.
“Really the way he scored his points was the whole game – our defense was just not good enough,” said Strong. “Every time we made him drive, no one rotated. How many layups did he get? We lost to a great team and Gregg Hunt is a great coach. We had a great season with a 25-1 record the best in school history. We just didn’t play good enough defense tonight.”
The third quarter was a dandy and Wamogo did its best work without scoring. An 8-3 spurt capped off by a Coffey drive put Wamogo up 43-38. However, Sattazahn picked up his fourth foul with 3:13 as the drama unfolded.
Wamogo proceeded to run almost two minutes off the clock before turning the ball over and then another minute but still clung to a 43-42 lead. Coffey then scored to end the period with a 45-42 lead.
“That three minutes we took off the clock at the end of the third quarter was great,” said Hunt.
Colin Baker tied the game with a trey to start the fourth quarter and the two teams traded blows until the final two minutes when Wamogo stamped its ticket to Mohegan.
“We executed our game plan and did everything the coach wanted us to do,” said Sattazhan. “This is unbelievable.”
Got that right. What’s better than Mohegan at this time of year. Absolutely nothing.