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Down ten points with about a half-minute to play in the Division II state tournament semifinals, Newtown High School’s boys’ basketball team nearly put together a seemingly impossible comeback to continue an improbable postseason run.
But No. 9 Amity of Woodbridge fended off the never-quit underdog Nighthawks, seeded 21st, and prevailed 48-45, at a packed Shelton High/neutral site gymnasium, on March 14.
Here’s how the game went from all but over to undecided until the final buzzer:
Todd Petersen drove to the basket for two points to make it 48-40 with 31 seconds left.
Following a timeout, the Nighthawks got the ball back and Robert DiSibio went to the hoop to make it 48-42 with 15 seconds to go.
Pressure defense on the ensuing Amity inbound led to a throw-away and the Hawks capitalized as Petersen drained a long-range 3-pointer with under ten seconds to play and time running out.
The Hawks fouled Amity’s Tanner Thomas with six seconds left, and Amity called for time.
A missed front end one and one foul shot gave Newtown the chance it needed. Riley Ward took a pass, raced up the court, and got the ball to Ryan Escoda in the left corner.
Escoda’s bid to tie the score with a last-second 3-pointer was blocked out of bounds by Cole Wissink.
Game over. Or so Amity’s celebrating fans thought. Officials considered putting time back on the clock since the buzzer went off after the ball headed out of play but, in the end, they didn’t.
“We got what we wanted,” Newtown Coach Tim Tallcouch said of his team’s execution of the strategy the players and coaches went over during the last timeout. “What a great block.”
This was a terrific finish to a game Amity’s faithful had chalked up as a sure win with time running down. They chanted “it’s all over” a bit prematurely. The student sections at both ends of the court were into the game from start to finish, and traded chants both supporting their team and light-heartedly taking pokes at the opposition.
“My guys don’t give up. They played liked that all year and we’ve gotten continuously better,” Tallcouch said.
That certainly showed during a state playoff effort that featured wins over No. 12 Ledyard, No. 5 Pomperaug of Southbury, and No. 13 Wilton — all on the road.
Newtown’s coach pointed to the leadership of seniors Nick Weiland, Evan Eggleston, and Escoda, along with the regular contributions of juniors Petersen and DiSibio, along with sophomore Ward. Junior Shea Talbot also stepped up, especially with Eggleston in first-half foul trouble.
“What an experience for them. What an experience,” Tallcouch said.
The experience seemed potentially destined to stretch into the championship round.
Newtown seized an early 10-4 lead and was ahead 10-7 after one quarter of play before the Spartans capped a 10-0 run for a two-possession lead early in the second quarter.
It was 20-17 Amity at the half.
The Spartans pulled ahead by as many as a dozen points in the third quarter and led 38-28 heading to the fourth.
Weiland had 14 points, 12 of which he scored in the second half, often utilizing a strong baseline move.
DiSibio canned a trio of 3-pointers on his way to a 14-point performance of his own. Petersen scored 11, including nine in the final stanza.
Escoda knocked down a second-quarter shot from downtown for his three points, Ward chipped in with two, and Talbot tacked on a point with a free throw.
Tyler Thomas scored 18, and Tanner Thomas added 11 for the Spartans.
After Amity outscored Newtown 18-11 in the third, the Hawks matched the Spartans in the scoring department throughout most of the final period before the late push made things interesting, tense, thrilling.
“We kept playing from behind. I think in the fourth quarter we got our rhythm back a little. Hats off to Amity. They’re going to Mohegan and they deserve it,” said Tallcouch, referring to Amity’s advancement to face No. 2 Immaculate of Danbury, a 48-43 winner over No. 6 Glastonbury in the other semifinal, at Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday, March 17, beginning at 8:30 pm.
Despite Newtown’s furious comeback effort being stalled, Tallcouch headed to the locker room to meet with his players feeling pretty good about things.
He credited Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference officials for restructuring the brackets such that an additional one was added when the state moved from four classes based on school size to five divisions taking into account factors such as strength of teams entering into the campaign.
Most of all, Tallcouch is proud of his players.
“I’m really happy and pumped about Newtown basketball. It stinks that it ends right now but this is the type of run that can only energize a program and energize the town of Newtown,” Tallcouch said.