The Greenwich High School boys basketball team needed everything to fall into place earlier tonight if they wanted to make a return trip to the FCIAC tournament for the first time in four years.
That’s exactly what happened, as Greenwich took care of Danbury High School 50-46 on senior night and claimed the final spot in the upcoming FCIAC tourney.
“Every senior played tonight and they brought home an FCIAC berth,” Greenwich head coach Bill Brehm said. “Their goal was to win the FCIAC championship, so they are still in it. McMurray is the leader of the team and is a hard-nosed gamer. He’s the spirit of our team and brings the energy. (Jonathan) Palmer played unbelievable defense tonight and (Alex Wolf) got some big rebounds, blocks and shots when he needed to. It was a real team effort.”
The Cardinals were in a must-win game against the Hatters, the same team that knocked Big Red out of FCIACs last year in overtime. At the same time, Staples was hosting Bassick High School and even if Greenwich beat Danbury, all the Wreckers had to do was win to eliminate the Cards.
Bassick did its part by stunning Staples on the road. However Big Red wasn’t living up to their end of the equation, trailing 25-17 at the break and by 11 with seven minutes to play in the game. That’s when the GHS basketball team got a little help from the Cardinal Crazies.
“The Cardinal Crazies sure helped us,” GHS senior captain Sam Latto said. “They started chanting that Bassick won and at that point and that got us fired up. We still had a little doubt in our head, but once we heard them chant and go crazy, we fed off them and came together. We realized this was something great that we could do for Greenwich High School. This feels so great and I am so proud to be a captain here. We worked so hard this year and to do this on senior night is an amazing feeling. It was a team effort. They knocked us out last year and it was nice to get a little revenge. Hopefully we can come out Saturday and knock off St. Joe’s.”
Thomas Baietto led the way for Greenwich with 10 points, while McMurray added nine points. Alex Wolfe and CJ Byrd each added eight points and Leonel Hyatt finished with four. For Danbury, Danyjoel Harris led all scorers with 19 points. Marquise Marrero and Michael Schneider each added six points, while Mike Kline and Corey Chaffee each netted five points.
“We were kind of in a funk and let them hit some open three’s and didn’t make bunny shots,” Brehm said. “We had 12 shots in or around the paint and six of them were layups and we missed that many in the first half. It wasn’t like we were hitting everything in the second half, but Thomas Baietto hit a big three and McMurray hit a big three. C.J. (Byrd) came on in the end and drained some huge free throws.
Greenwich, which was unable to find the basket throughout much of the first half, was trailing 40-29 with seven minutes to play. However that’s when Big Red got the news, courtesy of the Cardinal Crazies, that the Lions upset Staples. Knowing a victory would put the team in FCIACs, Greenwich woke up in a big way.
Greenwich tightened up its defense in the fourth quarter and were much more aggressive to the net, outscoring the Hatters 21-9 in the quarter and forcing numerous turnovers which were converted to points.
Byrd got the ball rolling with 6:33 to play, as he grabbed the offensive rebound and connected on the putback to cut the deficit to single digits. Palmer was able to steal the ball and drain the easy layup. Off a Danbury miss on their next possession, McMurray got the ball and buried a baseline three-pointer to cut to the deficit to 40-36 with 5:27 to play.
Greenwich kept the attack going, as Wolf was able to steal the ball and quickly dish to Byrd for the easy layup. Wolf again made his presence felt a possession later, as he grabbed the offense rebound and putback to knot the game at 40-40 with 4:30 to play.
With the crowd in a frenzy, Byrd gave Greenwich the lead for good when grabbed the offensive rebound, was fouled going up and drained one of the two foul shots to give Big Red a 41-40 lead with 3:36 to play.
The Cards remained poised in the final minutes, sinking nine of its final 10 foul shots to put the game away.
“We switched to a 13, 75% of the court and 13 trap and it worked for us,” Brehm said. “Nobody’s seen it all year and we’ve kept it in our back pocket. We figured it was right time to bring it out. It started with defense and I think our kids responded to it.”
With the victory, Greenwich will enter the FCIAC tournament as the No. 8 seed and will play St. Joseph in the first round out the tournament Saturday at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. Back on Jan. 8, Greenwich traveled to Trumbull for a game against the Cadet and were defeated 62-54. For the Cardinals, its the first time in four years that they will be competing in the conference tournament.
“It feels great to be back in FCIACs,” Brehm said. “I’m especially happy for these kids, who haven’t tasted it yet. I am happy these kids got into the FCIACs. We spotted St. Joe’s a 17-point lead in the first half and cut it to two at one point. I don’t anticipate doing that again this time around. I don’t think our kids are afraid to play anybody because they know they could play against anybody in the FCIAC.”