Two girls hoop teams, and one local boys coach, are ready for state final challenges

High school basketball state championship weekend is almost here, and two local teams are in state finals, as is a coach with local ties.

The St. Paul and Holy Cross girls basketball teams play on Saturday at Uncasville’s Mohegan Sun Arena at 10 a.m. and 6:15 p.m. in the Class M and L championship games. In between them at 12:30 p.m. is the Lewis Mills boys basketball team, led by former Bristol Eastern assistant coach Ryan Raponey. They play in the Division III final.

Here’s more on each final:



Records: St. Paul, 23-3; Windham, 22-4

Road to the final: St. Paul – first round bye; def. No. 15 Immaculate-Danbury, 57-47; No. 7 Granby Memorial, 49-29; No. 3 Oxford, 50-32. Windham – first round bye; def. No. 21 Woodland Regional-Beacon Falls, 52-35; No. 4 Wilcox Tech-Meriden, 93-44; No. 1 East Hampton, 44-42.

State championship records: St. Paul, 2-3 (won titles in 2001, 2010; both Class S); Windham, 2-0 (won titles in 2005, 2011; both Class M)

Notes: Windham ended East Hampton’s 46-game win streak, and its reign as Class M state champion, in a semifinal thriller at RHAM in Hebron. The Whippets had three players named to the ECC Division II all-tournament team, and there was one from three different classes: senior Hailey Flores, junior Aniya Jenkins, and freshman Zoee Robins. Flores had 11 points in the East Hampton win, but there were other big efforts. There was junior Jaelize Rivera’s 14 points, including a big 3-pointer for a four-point lead with under two minutes to play. There was also freshman Asijha Harris’ seven points. It’s not one player that makes the Whippets go.

St. Paul has the NVL tournament’s last two most valuable players, seniors Audrey Tice and Rebecca Kelly. Tice won it as a junior while Kelly earned it this season as the Falcons wrapped up back-to-back league championships. Those two players make St. Paul go, Tice from the outside and Kelly from the inside. Kelly is also part of a formidable front line that includes sophomore Zola Cudjoe and junior Ava Stevenson. Junior Aniyah Moore came up big on the boards against Oxford, as did senior Olivia Dahn. Dahn, a very tough defensive player, can also knock down a 3-pointer if left open. Junior Maddie Bielecki provides important ball-handling and defense, and she came up big in the NVL title game against Holy Cross.



Records: Lewis Mills, 19-5; Bunnell, 20-6

Road to the final: Lewis Mills – first round bye; def. No. 15 Masuk-Monroe, 68-50; No. 26 Maloney-Meriden, 59-48; No. 14 Fairfield Ludlowe, 37-36. Bunnell – def. No. 28 New Canaan, 62-47; No. 12 Brookfield, 94-57; No. 13 North Haven, 55-36; def. No. 1 SMSA-Hartford, 56-49.

State championship records: Lewis Mills, 1-1 (won title in 1996, Class S); Bunnell, 1-0 (won title in 2015, Class L)

Notes: Raponey, a former Bristol Eastern boys assistant coach, is in his fifth season at the helm for Lewis Mills. The Spartans won the CCC South Region, going a perfect 7-0 to get past next-door neighbor Bristol Eastern (6-1). Mills had to come back against a Ludlowe team that had knocked off No. 3 Wilby, 44-42, in a second round game. Senior Connor Evans made a pair of free throws in the final minute, then the Spartan defense stiffened and forced a tough shot on the final Falcon possession to preserve the victory. Evans and fellow senior Eli Pelletier were All-CCC South selections. Raponey is assisted by Isaiah Rascoe, who played for Sacred Heart High School.

Bunnell senior Jordan Ricketts was an All-SWC selection while juniors Jayden Turnage, Alex Munoz and Jordan Pierce were chosen for the SWC All-Colonial Division team. In a conference dominated by catholic schools like Notre Dame-Fairfield and Kolbe Cathedral-Bridgeport, Bunnell has managed to win five SWC championships since 1996, and they also finished as runner-up twice. The Bulldogs are no strangers to success, and they will be a tough out on Saturday.


Records: Holy Cross, 24-2; Simsbury, 22-4

Road to the final: Holy Cross – first round bye; def. No. 17 Wilton, 59-46; No. 8 Bristol Eastern, 69-33; No. 12 Farmington, 69-63. Simsbury – first round bye; No. 15 Fitch-Groton, 54-41; No. 10 Windsor, 37-31; No. 3 New Milford, 42-32.

State championship records: Holy Cross, 2-4 (won titles in 2007, 2022; both Class M); Simsbury, first appearance

Notes: Simsbury will play in a state final for the first time on Saturday. The Trojans got there by slowing the game down, running efficient offense and stifling opponents with tough defense. Senior Amanda Gallagher erupted for 24 points against New Milford in the semifinal victory. Fellow senior Olivia Jarvis added 13 points. Gallagher and Jarvis were both All-CCC West Region selections. Gallagher also picked up New Milford senior big Ileana Feliz as her defensive assignment. Gallagher held her own, with help from her teammates, as Feliz tallied just nine points.

Holy Cross will try to do what it can to push the pace against Simsbury in the final. Low-scoring games are not often part of the Crusader portfolio (they have scored less than 60 points just five times in their previous 26 games). Junior Shania Howard and sophomore Corinne Lomax make the Holy Cross offense go, but more often than not, that offense gets in gear because of the Crusader defense. Defense is the calling card of the Crusaders, and don’t expect anything different on Saturday.

Photos: Copyright, Sports on CT-69