In the past two seasons, there were plenty of closes losses for the Avon High boys basketball team as they got their first taste of playing in the competitive Central Connecticut Conference.
Those lessons have paid off. The Falcons saw No. 5 Enfield erase a nine-point deficit to take the lead but No. 9 Avon didn’t wilt. The Raiders took a one-point lead when junior Jadon Archer scored with 27 seconds left in the game.
Avon missed a shot with eight seconds left in regulation and senior Connor Harris pulled down the rebound and bounced the ball off an Enfield defender to give the Falcons the ball under the basket with two seconds remaining.
Riley Welter lofted a high pass into the lane to senior Charlie Reiss, who leaped into the air to grab it and softly bounced it off the background as the buzzer sounded to lift the Falcons to a thrilling 76-75 victory in Wednesday night’s Division III semifinal game at New Britain High School.
The win puts Avon, a team that won just 11 total games the previous two seasons, into the state championship game on Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena against No. 2 Waterford (24-2). It will be Avon’s first state championship appearance since 2005 when the Falcons beat Fairfield Ludlowe for the Division III title.
“They are playing just so well,” Avon’s third-year head coach Kris Pedra said. “They’re composure stands out. They stay calm, stay together and just find a way to win.”
Added Reiss, who led the Falcons with a career-high 23 points, “I saw the backside was open so I went right to (the ball) and put it in off the glass.” He smiled.
The Falcons (16-9) made gotten off to blistering starts in the Division III tournament. They led by 10 points after one quarter in a 56-51 victory over No. 1 Guilford in the quarterfinals. In the second round, Avon led by nine after one quarter in a 72-46 victory over Brookfield and they put that game away with an explosive fourth quarter.
Against Enfield, the Falcons once again grabbed an early seven-point lead, 21-14, with 11 points from Reiss. Welter hit a key three-point shot at the buzzer to give the Falcons a 41-34 lead after two quarters.
But the Raiders surged led by Archer, who scored a game-high 43 points and seven 3-point field goals. “We had a game plan to stop him and Riley did a good job on him,” Reiss said. “But he is a great player.”
Avon had an eight-point lead in the third quarter but Enfield closed out the quarter with a 13-2 run to tie the game at 58-58.
“They had all of the momentum in the world and they were hitting shots left and right,” Avon’s Connor Harris said. “But we got a timeout and we told coach that we weren’t going to lose this game. We were going to stay in it.”
“It’s not always going to go your way,” Harris said. “You can’t get flustered. We stuck with each other and didn’t start blaming each other.”
Jack Hall, Avon’s freshman guard, drained a three-pointer with 4:19 remaining to give the Falcons a five-point lead, 68-63. However, the Raiders responded with a 10-2 run to give Enfield a 73-70 lead with 1:19 left in the game.
Harris scored with 1:04 remaining in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to one, 73-72. Reiss’s basket with 35 seconds remaining gave Avon a 74-73 edge only to see Archer give Enfield the lead again, 75-74, thanks to a basket with 27 seconds left.
Avon got the game-winner as time expired. “The moment wasn’t too big for us,” Harris said.
Said Williams, who had 12 points, “We knew anything was possible. We beat the No. 1 seed (Guilford).”
Welter had 11 points, including three 3-point goals, while Hall and Brett Muni had 10 points each. It was the first double digit scoring performance from Hall since he had 10 points against Bristol Central in early January.
“This was an electric game in a great environment to play,” Pedra said. “I’m so glad our seniors got to play in this type of game. This is what you work hard for.”
Reiss, Williams, Williams, Harris and Muni are all seniors and each started.
Avon 76, Enfield 75
At New Britain
Avon (76) Jack Hall 4-0-10, Brett Muni 4 1-1 10, Charlie Reiss 11-0-23, Marek Cierniewski 1-0-2, Jordan Williams 5-0-12, Riley Welter 4-0-11, Connor Harris 4-0-8. Totals 33 1-1 76
Enfield (75) Wyatt Raymond 1-0-2, Colin O’Connell 0 1-2 1, Jadon Archer 15 6-8 43, Ty Calloway1 2-2 4, Aldred Colon 2 6-8 10, Kyle Menaker 2 0-2 4, Ismael Torres, Jr. 4-0-9, Jaylen Brown 1-0-2. Totals 24 15-22 75
Avon (16-9) 21 20 17 19 – 76
Enfield (20-5) 14 20 24 17 – 75
Three-point goals: Hall (A) 2, Muni (A), Reiss (A), Williams (A) 2, Welter (A) 3, Archer (Enf) 7, Torres (Enf)
Video courtesy David Zlatin