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Warde holds off Xavier in Class LL first round

March 7, 2017

FAIRFIELD — The ball hung tantalizingly on the rim.

It was Xavier’s last chance at stealing away an opening-round victory over Warde in the Class LL tournament. The Falcons called time out after a missed free throw with the clock showing 0.9 seconds left and the Mustangs holding a one-point lead. The play was, throw it long, catch, turn and shoot.

Xavier’s 6-foot-5 center Kyle Jenkins caught the long pass at his own free-throw line, turned and shot.

The ball hit the back of the rim, bounced to the front of the rim, where it hung there for seemed like an eternity … before rolling off and allowing Warde to escape with a 55-54 decision Monday night at the Mustangs’ gym, a game that won them the ticket to take a long bus ride to Norwich to face No. 7-seed Norwich Free Academy, who pounded No. 24 Naugatuck.

“We executed that last play,” Xavier coach Mike Kohs said. “We got the shot we wanted and to be honest with you, I thought it was in. He let it go, it had a nice arc on it, I thought it was a swish, front of the rim, back of the rim, sat there for a while, looked to me like it could have fell in, but it just rolled off.”

“My heart dropped,” Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. “We knew they were going to try and throw it the length of the floor and we didn’t want to foul. It was a great pass, we put pressure on him (Jenkins) he caught it, it hit once, twice on the rim and I thought, ‘Oh boy, please … please,’ and luckily, it rolled off.”

Over the first three quarters, Warde had the lead and the momentum, opening a 15-12 advantage after the first quarter and a 30-18 lead at halftime after the Mustangs’ defense held Xavier to just six second-quarter points. And heading into the fourth quarter, Warde led by 38-29 and was seemingly in control.

Seemingly.

Finally getting its inside game going, Xavier kept cutting into the Warde lead, pulling within four on six different occasions before two free throws from Jackson Benigni sliced the lead to 54-51 with 1:26 to play. All of Jenkins’ 12 points came in the second half and seven of Alec McGovern’s nine also came in the second half as the Falcons looked to steal the game.

“We were trying to go inside in the first half, but we just didn’t execute,” Kohs said. “We weren’t playing as physical as we should have and at halftime, I challenged my big men to respond and they answered, both Kyle (Jenkins) and (Alec) McGovern. We starting scoring in the paint, which was what we needed to do.”

With 10.3 seconds left, Warde looked to attack the basket. Sean Conway drove and fed Malcolm Brune, who was fouled with 1.2 seconds to play. Brune made the first, but missed the second, Xaxier getting the rebound and calling time with 0.9 left, setting up Jenkins’ almost heroics.

“Good players make great plays,” Swaller said of Conway’s pass. “He could have shot the ball, but we ran it that way, Malcolm caught it and picked up the foul.”

And that allowed Warde to live another day.

celsberry@ctpost.com

WARDE 55, XAVIER 54

XAVIER

Jackson Benigni 6 6-9 20, Zach Strode 1 0-0 2, Alec McGovern 4 1-1 9, Mitch Nappi 4 1-2 11, Matt Bielenda 0 0-0 0, Ethan Telford 0 0-0 0, Kyle MacGillis 0 0-0 0, Kyle Jenkins 4 4-8 12. Totals: 19 12-20 54

WARDE

Sean Conway 8 1-1 18, Rashad Butler 2 0-0 5, Matt Becker 2 0-0 6, Malcolm Brune 3 1-2 7, JJ Conway 0 4-6 4, Jackson Longley 4 0-0 8, Marcel Parsons 3 1-3 7, Mark Garcia 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 7-12 55

XAVIER 12 6 11 25—54

WARDE 15 15 8 17—55

Records: Warde 16-6, Xavier 10-12. 3-pointers: W - Sean Conway, Butler, Becker 2; X - Benigni 2, Nappi 2.