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With a win over Maloney, No. 2 Lewis Mills returns to semifinals

Lewis Mills’ Gavin Daly drives to the basket during Monday’s CIAC Division III win over Maloney in Burlington.

BURLINGTON, March 11, 2024 – Chatting with a few members of the media, Lewis Mills head coach Ryan Raponey held a basketball in his hands after his Spartans advanced to the CIAC Division III semifinals on Monday night with a 58-49 win over conference rival Maloney in front of a loud, standing-room-only crowd.

“The biggest thing for us offensively is this thing,” he said slightly raising the basketball, “has to move. If the spotlight stays on a guy for too long, it’s too much attention on that player and he won’t be able to have a great night. He has to be able to share it.

“This team buys into kicking it out of the double team, making one more pass and finding the open man,” he said.

Eight players scored for the Spartans, led by freshman Tommy DiNunzio with 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench and Tristan Mooney with 13 as Mills advanced to the semifinals of a state tournament for the first time since 2014 and just the second time since 1996.

Lewis Mills, the No. 2 seed, will play No. 14 Fairfield Ludlowe (15-9) on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at a neutral location to be announced. Mills will be looking to earn a berth in the finals for the first time since 1996 and just the third time in program history.

Connor Evans and Eli Pelletier each had six points and Charlie Joiner added five for Mills, which played tough defense against the upset-minded Spartans from Maloney.

Maloney’s Michael Massey (25) drives to the basket in Monday’s Division III tournament game against Lewis Mills.

No. 26 Maloney (10-13) beat No. 7 Stonington in their first tournament game and beat No. 23 Amity last week to advance.

“They came in with their season on the line and with a little bit of nothing to lose,” Raponey said. “They definitely came in and gave us their best punches tonight.”

Mekhi Seth had a game-high 21 points and four three-point shots while Marquis Ward had 13 points and a pair of three-point shots for Maloney.

However, Mills (18-5) has made a living by disrupting opposition offenses this season, creating turnovers and racing in the opposite direction on a fast break.

“That’s pretty much one of our calling cards this season,” Raponey said.

Maloney took an early 9-4 lead but Mills scored nine of the next 10 points in the game to lead after one period, 13-10.

Maloney stayed within striking distance in the second quarter but couldn’t quite catch Mills, who led by six at halftime, 30-24.

Every time, Maloney would get close, Mills would hit a shot or make a play to extend the lead. Seth hit a three-point shot with 5:35 left in the third quarter to cut the lead to three, 32-29 only to see Mooney drive to the basket and score and Joiner stealing the ball and going coast-to-coast for a layup and the lead was back to seven points, 36-29.

Seth hit a three-point shot with 3:26 left in the third quarter to again trim the lead to three, 38-35 but DiNunzio drove to the basket to boost the lead to five.

Maloney’s Jesus Martell cuts the lead to three with a basket in the lane but Mills responds with Brett Harding sinking a three-point shot from Joiner, who was double-teamed in the lane. DiNunzio scored in the lane to boost the lead to eight points, 45-37.

Mills outscored Maloney 10-3 in the first 5:13 minutes of the fourth quarter to take a commanding 55-42 lead with 2:47 remaining.

Mills, which won their first CCC South divisional championship this winter, beat Maloney earlier this year, 64-44.

Mills’ last semifinal appearance came in 2014 when Weaver eliminated the Spartans, 89-33. The last win for Mills in the semifinals came in 1996 when they beat Avon 54-49 and went onto win their first and only state championship with a 52-49 win over Portland.

Lewis Mills 59, Maloney 48
At Burlington
Maloney (48)
Jesus Martell 3-2-9, Allen Lee 1-0-2, Mekhi Seth 7-1-21, Marquis Ward 5-1-13, Michael Massey 1-1-3, Alden Valerie 0-0-0. Totals 17-4 48
Lewis Mills (59) Gavin Daly 1-1-4, Charlie Joiner 2-1-5, Tristan Mooney 6-0-13, Eli Pelletier 1-3-6, Brett Harding 1-0-3, Tommy Dinunzio 7-3-17, Jack Nestor 0-2-2, Connor Evans 2-1-6, Max Dinunzio 0-0-0. Totals 19-12-59
Maloney (10-13)          10  14  15  9  — 48
Lewis Mills (18-5)       13  17  15  14  — 59
Three-point goals: Martell (M), Seth (M) 4, Ward (M) 2, Daly (LM), Mooney (LM), Pelletier (LM), Harding (LM), Evans (LM)

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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