After consecutive years in which Kolbe Cathedral fell in the SWC conference tournament semifinals, the Cougars broke through and found their way back to the championship game following a 48-42 win over Joel Barlow on Tuesday night at the Cardinal Shehan Center in Bridgeport.
The Falcons were in control early on thanks to senior Thomas Richetelli, who found his groove offensively after being held in check in Barlow’s quarterfinal win against against Pomperaug. The Falcons took a 13-8 lead after the first quarter led by Richetelli’s 10 points.
“Tom was getting good looks inside. He did a nice job for us,” said Joel Barlow head coach Pat Yerina. “We usually try to get him the ball.”
Barlow expanded its lead to 10 points by starting the second quarter with a five-point run while holding Kolbe Cathedral scoreless through the first two and a half minutes. After a Daniel Wellington three-pointer stopped the Falcons’ run, however, the momentum seemed to shift towards the Cougars.
Kolbe Cathedral would outscore the Falcons 14-6 over the remaining five minutes to pull within two points at halftime, thanks in large part to the Cougars’ ability to get out in transition and apply pressure defense.
“We certainly have some athleticism and some speed, so we are going to try to use it on both sides of the ball,” said Kolbe Cathedral head coach John Pfohl. “Whether it’s trying to push the ball on offense or trying to pressure the ball full court on defense.”
In the third quarter, Kolbe Cathedral would completely erase the once double digit deficit and take their first lead since the opening stages of the game after a basket by Da’shawn Hall-Jonson gave the Cougars a 28-26 lead with 6:12 remaining in the third quarter.
Once they had the lead, Wellington would take command of the game. The senior scored nine of his game-high 20 points in the third quarter and put Kolbe on top 39-32, putting them eight minutes away from a tournament championship game appearance.
After Wellington scored the first basket of the fourth quarter, Barlow strung together five straight points to cut the Cougar lead to four with just over three minutes to play. Kolbe Cathedral would hold onto a six-point lead as time continued to tick down to under a minute to play.
The Falcons did not go away easily. With 48 seconds left to play, senior Arnold Wright knocked down a three to make it a three-point game.
With no other option, Joel Barlow was forced to foul, sending Kolbe Cathedral to the free throw line with a chance to put the game out of reach. However, Eudell Mason missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving Barlow a chance to tie.
On the ensuing trip down the floor, however, Clark Gilmore would drive into the lane and be whistled for an offensive foul. The Cougars would knock down the free throws and force one final turnover to seal Barlow’s fate and send Kolbe to the championship game, where they will face top seed Immaculate.
“When I left [coaching Kolbe Cathedral] in 2008, we had dominated the league pretty well,” said Pfohl. “We’ve been in the semifinals the past two years and lost on the road. For us to get a home court advantage, it was big for us all year long. We talked about trying to get back to where we were last year and then take that next step. We’re very excited about it. We’re up for a good challenge.”
Wellington led the way for Kolbe Cathedral with 20 points along with playing stellar defense.
“Daniel was terrific today. We threw a lot at him. We asked him to do a lot more than we usually do. I told him he played like an all-league player,” said Pfohl.
For Joel Barlow, they will now set their sights on the state tournament. Yerina looks to turn the page and put their best foot forward as the fourth seed of 29 teams.
“We have to regroup ourselves, get a couple good practices in, and get ready for Tuesday night. We have a home game, so that’s always helpful,” said Yerina.
For more information on the CIAC Division IV tournament schedule see http://content.ciacsports.com/brackets/bbb2020IV.html.