East Catholic going for repeat in Division I boys basketball final vs. Northwest Catholic

Mar. 17—PLANTSVILLE — Excited for the opportunity.

Those were the words that East Catholic senior guard Luke Reilly used to describe the feeling at the state boys basketball championship luncheon after the top-seed in the Division I state tournament earned a return trip to the state finals.

Reilly — and fellow seniors James Jones, Mason Cottrell, Robert Elliott and Leondre Sanchez — are looking to close out their high school careers with a second state title as the Eagles (25-1) take on Central Connecticut Conference rival and No. 2 seed Northwest Catholic (21-3) tonight at 8:15 p.m.

This senior group never got to experience a state tournament as freshmen and sophomores in 2020 or 2001 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Freshman year we won the league title and that was pretty much it and as sophomores we only had a league tourney as well and just made the most of the season where we ended up losing in overtime to Bristol Central," Reilly said. "So when you have only two cracks at it and get to play in the state final both times. It's just super cool and something special."

East Catholic is the only team in the state to have not lost a game to an in-state opponent. The one loss this year came at the HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Mass. against St. Augustine, California, which won 67-57 on Jan. 14.

The Saints (28-5), the San Diego Section Open Division champion, had their season come to an end on Mar. 4 in a 89-67 loss to Centennial (30-3) in the California State Open Division regional semifinal.

"Playing against a team like that, it just gets you better," Reilly said. "You learn a lot of different things about yourself. It's an honor to have had the opportunity to play in Springfield with many talented teams across the country."

East Catholic put on an impressive showing in the semifinals with a 74-44 romp over Ridgefield Wednesday at the University of Hartford.

The Eagles took control with a 23-4 run covering the end of the second quarter and first four minutes of the third.

"We just came out and executed really well," Reilly said. "It was just fun being out on the court having fun and playing together. Being honest it didn't feel like we were up by as much as we were until the fourth quarter.

"That's when it started to sink in that we were going to be playing for a state championship once again."

Sophomore center Preston Fowler — who scored a game-high 24 points — said it's just a strange kind of feeling.

"It doesn't feel real," Fowler said. "For us, it almost feels normal."

Reilly's father and coach Luke Reilly, just enjoyed watching the way the group played.

"It was just awesome seeing them play at such a high level," Reilly said. "They share the ball and play together. That's what it takes to win at this time of year."

East Catholic will be making its 15th appearance in the state finals, winning seven state titles. The Eagles, who defeated Notre Dame-West Haven 50-49 in last year's Division I final have won in their last four appearances.

The Lions, in their 13th appearance, last won a state title in 2003.

The two rivals have never met for a state championship.

During their regular season meeting this year — on Valentine's Day — East Catholic won 70-49. They didn't play in the CCC tournament as Northwest Catholic was stunned by Conard on a buzzer-beater in the second round.

"It's going to be a whole lot different," Fowler said. ""We all know that it's going to be a battle."