RHAM’s Matthew Fraleigh defends Ledyard’s Caden Whipple during the Raptors tournament loss on March 10
Ledyard boys’ basketball eliminated RHAM 50-45 in the second round of the Division III state tournament on March 10 at RHAM High School.
It ended a successful season for the Raptors, who won 18 games in head coach Todd Dean’s first year on the sidelines.
The teams were mirror images of one another, using deep rotations and playing at a breakneck pace with attacking styles on both ends of the court.
When it mattered most, it was the visiting Colonels performance in the clutch that made the difference.
“They just made plays at the right times and we didn’t. They deserved to win the game,” said Dean.
RHAM, who entered the tourney at the No. 5 seed and earned a first round bye, showed fight after falling behind 12-2 in the first quarter to the No. 12 ranked Colonels.
The Raptors slowly clawed their way back into the game behind senior captain Jimmy Hulland, who scored 9 of his team-high 16 points in the first half.
Hulland drilled a three pointer to break a four-minute scoring drought in the first quarter, prompting a 20-11 run.
Late in the first half, sophomore backup point guard Troy Miller scored six straight points, the last two on a euro step in transition after receiving a perfect outlet pass from Patrick Kelly.
After playing a first quarter filled with miscues, the Raptors were only down by three at the half and took their first lead of the game at the 2:49 mark of the third quarter when Kelly made a pair of free throws to give the home team a 30-29 advantage.
Hulland made two more free throws to increase the lead before Ledyard ended the quarter on a 7-2 run, highlighted by a buzzer-beating baseline three pointer from reserve Caden Whipple.
Whipple led the Colonels with 16 points
“Caden is a huge leader. He is a guy who I projected to start all season but he had a shaky start and he came up and told me for the betterment of the team I want to come off the bench,” said Ledyard head coach D.J. Exum, “Every game that he has come off the bench, we’ve had big wins.”
The momentum of Whipple’s three carried over into the final frame as Ledyard increased the lead to 41-34 before the resilient Raptors made one final push.
Hulland stole a pass and fed a streaking Spencer Pilkington for a breakaway flush. Hulland then made a contested jumper and canned a deep three from the baseline to narrow the deficit to 44-42 with 3:36 to play.
The turning point was on the following possession when Hulland stole another pass and pushed the ball ahead to Kelly who was called for an offensive charge as he elevated for a layup in the key. One official called a charge and the other official appeared to call a block. However, after a short conference the call of an offensive charge stood.
Ledyard scored on the next two times down on the court on layups from Dorell Cagle and Jonah Eddy.
Matthew Fraleigh drilled a deep three to again bring RHAM within three, but a late turnover and a pair of free throws from Ledyard ultimately made the difference in the final minute.
“Kudos to RHAM; they handled everything we threw at them and they came right back. I was really shocked. I didn’t know if they would handle our pressure but they came out and fought,” added Exum, who is also in his first year coaching at Ledyard. “We are built on trust. [The players] have a trust in me and I have trust in them. We have a survival mentality.”
RHAM, who played an exciting style of basketball all year, was hurt most by untimely mistakes in the tournament loss.
“I think we left a lot out there in terms of points with missed layups and free throws and not getting rebounds. Those happen in games but I thought they cost when it mattered,” said Dean.
The tough tourney defeat was the final game for seven seniors; Hulland, Kelly, Pilkington, Aidan Allen, Mike Poncini, Ryan McLaughlin, Alexander Demosthenous.
Dean said the seven departing players helped him put his stamp on the program and was a big reason for the success this season, adding, “They meant a lot to us. I thought they brought a lot of experience to the program. Getting to know them initially was a process but I think their leadership with the team will rub off on the guys returning. We will surely miss them next season.”
Overall, Dean thought it was a solid initial season, adding, “If you told me we would be 18-5 at the end of the season I think anyone would sign up for that. I thought we could be successful and win some games this year and the team bought into [my philosophy] and most nights it paid off, but tonight it didn’t.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin