Amity hangs on to reach first state final
SHELTON — Cole Wissink was going to do whatever he can to get to the corner to block the final shot of the game.
The Amity High freshman got there just in time to block Ryan Escoda’s shot into the Newtown student section. Wissink said he heard the buzzer sound. So did the Amity students as they piled onto the floor at Shelton High Wednesday night to celebrate.
“I’ve see him going for the shot. My instinct is to go and block it. I might as well,” Wissink said.
But the three referees huddled to determine if any time should be put back on the clock. They didn’t and the Spartans’ celebration continued. No. 9 seed Amity held on to beat No. 25 Newtown 48-45 in the Division II state semifinals.
“I heard the buzzer (go off). I was getting a little nervous. I thought they (the referees) would put 0.2 or something on the clock,” Wissink said. “It’s an amazing feeling. None of us have experienced this. We are experiencing this together.”
Said Amity coach Jeff Nielsen: “That (block) was a huge play. That’s their (Newtown’s) bread and butter, those corner 3s. That’s a phenomenal, athletic play.”
It’s the first appearance in the finals for the Spartans (20-6), who were also appearing in their first semifinal. Amity will face No. 2 Immaculate Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Arena at 8:30 p.m.
“We worked our butts off, no one thought we would make it,” senior guard Tyler Thomas said.. “Everyone knows we are the underdogs in every situation. It doesn’t matter if we played the 26th seed, people think we were going to lose, so I don’t think anybody expected us to be here right now.”
Said Newtown coach Tim Tallcouch: “We got what we wanted. It was a great block. It was a great high school basketball game.”
Amity was the only team from the SCC to advance to the state semifinals in boys basketball.
“We will enjoy the victory, enjoy going to Mohegan Sun over the weekend and play in the state championship, but we have to rely on our fundamentals and stay within ourselves and not get caught up in the emotion,” Nielsen said.
Amity had as much as an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter and led by 10 after a Tyler Thomas free throw with 39.3 seconds left.
Then Todd Petersen made a basket for Newtown, then Robert DiSibio (14 points) did the same. Tallcouch called for timeout with 16 seconds left and Amity now up 48-42.
“My guys don’t give up. They played like that all year,” Tallcouch said.
The Spartans proceeded to throw the inbounds pass away. Petersen banged in a 3-pointer to cut the deficit in half. Amity’s Tanner Thomas was fouled with 6.3 seconds left and the Spartans were still in a one-and-one situation.
“We were telling them to calm down and rely on their fundamentals,” Nielsen said. “They are in the middle of this great atmosphere.”
After an Amity timeout, Thomas missed the first free throw. Newtown quickly got the rebound and moved it to Escoda in the corner. Wissnik got there in time.
“That was the longest few minutes of my career right there,” Tyler Thomas said about trying to put the game away. “We had layups, we missed them. We had free throws, we missed them. We could have put it away earlier.”
Tyler Thomas (game-high 18 points, along with eight rebounds and two steals) picked up his second foul just 2:20 into the game and sat most of the first quarter. He re-entered the game with just over 2 minutes left and Newtown leading 10-4.
“I was begging to come back in. I know when to calm down (and not foul) and play solid defense,” Thomas said. “I know how to play with two fouls.”
The Spartans scored the next 10 points. Thomas also sat for a few minutes in the second quarter as Amity maintained the lead.
“I was trying to play it minute to minute to be honest with you. I was thinking about going offense-defense with him,” Nielsen said. “If you go down 12 to this team or any team at this point, you are in trouble. It’s still a two-possession game. I think we survived the first half and I think we survived the second half.”
Thomas, the SCC Player of the Year, had eight points in the third quarter when Amity extended its lead to double digits.
Then Newtown, which pulled three seeded upsets to get to to Wednesday’s game, almost had a chance to make it four straight.
“My three seniors (Ryan Escoda, Evan Eggleston and Nicholas Weiland), I can’t say enough about what they’ve done for me in four years,” Tallcouch said. “Those guys put us on their back to get us to the SWC (tournament) and the state (tournament). … I’m really happy and pumped about Newtown basketball. It stinks that it ends right now, but this is the type of run that could only energize this program and the town of Newtown.”