AVON – For the second straight game, the Avon High boys basketball team found themselves trailing in the second half on their home floor. On Monday night, Avon trailed Bulkeley by seven with 7:32 remaining the game before rallying for a victory.
On Wednesday night, visiting Darien led by seven points with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter.
The Falcons dug deep again. Avon went on a 22-6 run to seize command and beat Darien, 52-42 to earn a spot in Friday’s Class L quarterfinals for the first time since 2010.
Avon will face No. 2 Career Magnet at 6:30 p.m. at the Floyd Little Athletic Center at Hillhouse High in New Haven. The Blue Wave (11-11) goes home after earning a spot in the state tournament for the first time in 24 years.
No. 10 Avon (17-6) won with defense, rebounding and a balanced effort.
Freshman Nate Laszewski led the way with 16 points while Patrick McKearney added 13. But Avon wouldn’t have won without the defensive pressure from guard Brad Fisher, the dymanic rebounding and scoring from John Burdick and the tough rebounding from Justin Reichler.
“We rebounded well throughout the game,” Avon coach Chris Vozzolo said. “Our rebounding in the third quarter helped fuel our run. Defensive rebounding was really important today.”
Avon had 10 rebounds, two blocks and a steal in the pivotal third quarter. The Falcons also shut down Darien’s star player 5-foot-10 senior Matt Staubi. In the first half, Staubi had 14 points and penetrated the lane at will. In the second half, he had just four points.
“We wanted to contain him and force him to make tough shots, which he did,” Vozzolo said. “In the second half, we told the team to stop him before he could penetrate into the lane and make something happen.”
Darien led by as many as 10 points in the first half thanks to a 14-4 lead after one quarter. Avon cut the lead to two late in the second quarter but Staubi scored two straight baskets to give the Blue Wave a six-point halftime lead, 25-19.
Darien’s 6-foot-11 Chima Azuonwu scored a pair of baskets and a free throw to extend the Darien lead to seven, 29-22 with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Avon flexed their muscles. On three consecutive possessions, they drained three-point shots. John Burdick, Sean Herrmann and Laszewski sank the shots. On Hermann’s three-point play, Laszewski had the initial shot that missed. McKearney got the rebound and missed. He grabbed the rebound again and kicked it out to Herrmann.
“Avon got the rebounds they needed to and a few loose balls,” Darien coach Kyle Marian said. “We didn’t execute on offense.”
Laszewski’s basket tied the game for the first time since early in the first quarter. A few minutes later, Reichler gave Avon a 35-33 lead with 42 seconds left in the quarter when he grabbed a rebound and scored between two Darien defenders.
McKearney finished the quarter with a drive inside with three seconds left and a 37-33 Avon advantage.
In the fourth quarter, Staubi cut the lead to two on another basket in the lane but a 6-0 run put the Falcons back in command. Reichler grabbed a rebound and sank it with 6:20 remaining and a few seconds later, Herrmann stole the ball and dished it to McKearney, who drove to the basket for a layup.
Two minutes later, Burdick drove to the lane, scored and was fouled by Azuonwu. Burdick, who is only 6-foot-1, didn’t hesitate and drove right past Azuonwu, who fouled out on the play. Burdick sank the foul shot to extend the lead to nine, 44-35 with 4:15 remaining.
Darien did cut the lead to four, 44-40 with 2:48 remaining but an 8-2 Avon run sealed the victory. Fisher had a steal and layup with 2:09 left to extend the lead to eight.
“We’re loving this and we’re excited,” Reichler said. “But tomorrow, it’s back to work.”
Avon 52, Darien 42
Darien (42) Chima Azuonwu 2-4-8, Ames Murray 4-0-8, Bobby Fitzpatrick 1-1-3, Alexander Preston 0-0-0, Matt Staubi 7-3-18, Hudson Hamil 0-0-0, George Phillips 2-1-5. Totals 16-9-42
Avon (52) John Burdick 2-2-7, Jordan Levine 0-0-0, Brad Fisher 1-0-2, Sean Herrmann 2-0-6, Patrick McKearney 4-5-13, Jake Sartain 0-1-1, Justin Reichler 3-1-7, Nate Laszewski 4-6-16. Totals 17-15-52
Darien (11-11) 14 25 8 9 – 42
Avon (17-6) 4 15 16 15 – 52
Three-point goals: Burdick (A), Herrmann (A) 2, Laszewski (A) 2, Staubi (D)