WESTERLY — The boys’ basketball teams at Westerly High and Stonington High each face the bulk of their remaining schedules in 2014 and have their eye on reaching their state tournaments.
But both young squads will be hard matched to duplicate the magnitude and fever-pitch tournament atmosphere of the 30th annual WCCU Holiday Basketball Tournament championship classic they produced Monday in front of a lively 1,000-plus crowd at Federico Gym.
Westerly senior guard Kyle Allen hit a game-tying three-point shot with 1:11 left and then answered with the go-ahead trey from 26 feet out with 51 seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 53-50 lead en route to a riveting 57-52 victory over the Bears for the Westerly’s 12th WCCU crown and first since 2011. Allen hit five three-pointers and finished with 19 points to earn MVP honors.
“I felt pretty hot tonight and hit a three against Exeter from the same distance (about 25 feet), so I figured ‘why not,’” Allen said, talking about his go-ahead shot. “I was pretty confident. Of course, the home crowd really pumped me up.”
Westerly coach Mike Gleason thought both teams might have been a little too pumped up, resulting in hectic action, turnovers, missed shots in the lane, competitive rebounding battles and key missed free throws.
“The game really turned into a dogfight,” Gleason said. “It’s an intense rivalry game and we’ve missed playing Stonington in the last couple of years. When you add the championship factor to hit, it might have been a case of players being over-pumped. Both teams got after it and it was a game of runs. Luckily for us, we had the last run.”
Westerly sophomore guard Jacee Hamelin joined Allen on the All-Tournament team after scoring 18 points, giving him 46 in two games for the Bulldogs, who improved to 2-2. Allen scored just eight in the first round win over EWG, but his late-game heroics merited his selection as MVP.
“Kyle has the green light,” Gleason said. “We was on fire.”
Stonington (1-3) played without head coach Chad Barclay, who was ill with the flu. Freshman coach Jeff Balestracci and JV coach Ben Chapman, who led the Bears to the WCCU JV title, shared coaching duties with Balestracci patrolling the sidelines. Balestracci could not have asked for more from the Bears.
“It was a very intense battle,” Balestracci said. “There were no effort issues tonight. We did miss some free throws (the Bears were just 13 of 27), but the players gave everything they had and took it to the wire.”
Sophomore guard Matt Donahue scored 24 points and made the All-Tournament team along with Bear junior guard Ethan Murphy, who had 10 rebounds and five assists Monday. Chariho’s Robbie Toth and Exeter’s Justin Kennedy rounded out the squad. Westerly senior forward Anthony Garro received the sportsmanship award.
After Stonington took an 11-5 lead in the first six minutes, Westerly (2-3) scored eight straight to lead, 13-11, with 6:50 left in the first half. Hamelin hit a 3 and Allen added two 3 to give the Bulldogs a 22-17 lead before Donahue scored five straight and Murphy hit two free throws to tie it at 24-24. Scott Liguori’s short runner with 25 seconds left gave Westerly a 26-24 halftime lead.
Hamelin scored the first five in the second half on free throws for a 31-24 Westerly edge as the Bulldogs bothered Stonington with their press. The Bears came back on a 12-2 run to take a 36-33 lead when guard Jack Dipollino was fouled on a 3-pointer and hit all three free throws with 9:11 left.
There were three tie scores at 38-38, 40-40 and 42-42 before White, who had six points and 11 rebounds all in the second half, made a put-back and two of four free throws to put Stonington up, 44-42 with three minutes left. C.J. Dipollino’s hit a layup, but missed the free throw on a three-point play opportunity to make it 46-42 with 2:35 left. Liguori’s steal and layup with two minutes left cut the gap to 47-45, and Donahue hit one of three free throws to put Stonington up, 48-45, with 1:44 left. Hamelin hit a driving shot to cut it to 48-47, and Donahue answered with a driving shot for a 50-47 Bear lead with 1:28 left.
Hamelin drove the lane and dished outside on the right wing to Allen, who sank a trey a step behind the line right in front of Westerly’s large student section to tie the score at 50.
After two missed Stonington free throws with 1:07 left, Allen stroked the game-winner a good six feet behind the 3-point line from the right side to put Westerly up by three. The Bulldogs forced a turnover and Liguori made one free throw for a 54-50 lead. Hamelin hit three free throws in the final seconds.
“Ordinarily I’d say the next game could be a letdown after an emotional rivalry game like this,” Gleason said. “But we play at Prout, which has payback on its mind after we won the Division-II South last year at their place. We’ll be up for that game.”