CANTON, March 13 – The Canton High boys basketball took a tough shot to the chin in the first three minutes of Monday night’s Class S quarterfinal against Waterbury Career Academy.
The visiting Spartans used their quickness and skill to race out to a quick six-point lead.
WCA’s Marquan Watson scored on a rebound in the paint after a missed three-pointer, Matt Torres intercepted a Canton pass and sank a three-point shot. On WCA’s next possession, Torres drained another three-point shot and on Canton’s next possession, Torres swatted the ball away.
The Warriors didn’t win their first league championship in 35 years this season but meekly responding to a challenge. Despite trailing by as many as nine points, the Warriors fought back and cut the WCA lead to two with 3:47 remaining in the game.
But No. 26 WCA remained tough on defense and sank six of eight foul shots in a two minute span in the fourth quarter to advance to the Class S semifinals for the first time with a 50-45 victory over No. 2 Canton.
It was the third straight win for WCA (13-10) over a North Central Connecticut Conference (NCCC) opponent in the tournament. WCA, a second-year varsity program, will face No. 6 Trinity Catholic on Wednesday at a neutral location.
Canton (20-5) finishes the season with the most wins since 2009 (22) and their first quarterfinal appearance in eight years.
“We’ve seen pressure but we haven’t seen pressure like that,” Canton coach Craig Archambault said. “It was tough. It was relentless. They were more athletic than any team we’ve seen and they were skilled. Their guards could shoot it and get to the rim.”
WCA averaged 72.3 points a game this season – its first season in the Naugatuck Valley League. They went 10-10 but placed tough competition. They lost to Crosby-Waterbury twice including a 125-123 contest in triple overtime. They lost to Class LL semifinalist Kennedy and Class L semifinalist Sacred Heart twice.
“The NVL is a very complete league. It got us mentally and physically ready to play,” said junior guard Jaden Battle, who scored 16 points including 11 in the first half. “We played smart and we played composed. That is what the NVL taught us to do.”
WCA’s quickness was evident early as the Spartans raced out to an early 8-2 lead. The Spartans led by as many as 10 points in the first on a sweet three-point shot from Battle with 47 seconds left in the half.
“We knew they would try to slow it down so we had to speed it up,” WCA coach Ronan O’Leary said. “We knew we had to force the issue and pick up the tempo.”
Watson led the Spartans with 19 points with Battle scoring 16 and Torres adding 10.
The Spartans still led by eight when Watson swooped through the lane, grabbed a rebound and put it back into the basket for a 38-30 lead with 4:05 left in the third quarter.
But Canton (20-5) wouldn’t go away. The Warriors cut the lead to three after three quarters, 38-35. Enns grabbed a rebound in the lane and put it back up for two points.
About 40 seconds later, it was freshman Jack Rose with another three-point shot to cut the lead to three with 3:07 left in the third quarter. Enns battled two WCA defenders for the rebound after getting his shot to the basket blocked. Enns ripped the ball away from the two players and kicked the ball back out to Rose for the three-point shot.
Canton was making plays but it was hard to score. Every time Canton seemed to be in position to make a run, there was a dynamic play from WCA to extend the lead. There was Battle exploding to the basket, Watson driving hard to the hoop and the Spartans sinking six of eight foul shots down the stretch.
WCA also played some tough defense that seldom left any Canton players open for a shot. The Spartans constantly collapsed on the ball, making it difficult to dribble and pass the ball.
Still, Canton had opportunities. Tim Keating sank a pair of foul shots with 3:47 left to cut the lead to two, 41-39. But then there was Watson driving to the basket for two points and a 43-39 advantage.
Canton couldn’t control the rebound on their next possession and WCA extended the lead to six on a pair of free throws from Watson.
Enns scored another basket in the paint with 2:43 remaining cut the WCA lead to four, 45-41 but that was the final field goal of the contest for the Warriors. On their next four possessions, they missed two shots and had two turnovers.
“It’s all coming together now,” O’Leary said. “It’s a historic win. This is the biggest win in our school’s history. Every win from now is the biggest one in school history.”
Enns led the Warriors with 16 points – most coming in hard-earned battles in the lane. Freshman Jack Rose had nine points on three 3-point shots. Tim Keating played well in the paint with several hard-fought rebounds and nine points.
NOTES: WCA beat Windsor Locks and Hartford Classical in their first two tournament games. These are the first CIAC tournament victories for the Spartans. … It was the first-ever game between Canton and Waterbury Career Academy. Canton also had first-ever games with St. Bernard and Amistad of New Haven in the tournament this year. … This was Canton’s first quarterfinal contest since 2009.
Waterbury Career Academy 50, Canton 45
WCA (50) Langstun Racine 0-0-0, Jaden Battle 6-2-16, Kyren Petteway 0-0-0, Mamoudou Turner 0-0-0, Jessah Doctor 0-0-0, Chad McKoy 1-0-2, Matt Torres 4-0-10, Marquan Watson 7-4-19, Jalen Edwards 1-1-3. Totals 19 7 50
Canton (45) Luke Brown 1-1-5, Jack Mansur 0-0-0, Ryan Enns 8-0-16, Ethan Burke 0-4-4, Tim Keating 3-3-9, Matt Rose 1-0-2, Jack Rose 3-0-9. Totals 17-7-45
WCA (13-10) 16 13 9 12 – 50
Canton (20-5) 11 10 14 10 – 45
Three-point goals: Torres (W) 2, Watson (W), Battle (W) 2, Brown (C), Jack Rose (C) 3