BRACKET CENTRAL — State tournaments can be a lot like attending a back-to-school mixer. There’s an awful lot of faces at the dance you just don’t know.
Not so this tournament season for the Lyman Hall and Sheehan girls basketball teams. When the CIAC girls brackets were unveiled Wednesday, the Wallingford rivals discovered they stand back-to-back in the Class L field.
Should the No. 7 Trojans and the No. 23 Titans get past their first-round opponents on Tuesday, they’ll meet for a third time this season next Friday night at Lyman Hall.
First things first. Lyman Hall (17-4) must beat No. 26 Guilford (8-12) at home and Sheehan (11-11) must go on the road and knock off No. 10 Torrington (15-5).
“Obviously, the rule in tournament play is not looking to the next step without getting beyond the task at hand,” Sheehan coach Mike Busillo remarked Wednesday. “We understand if we play a good game, we will get another opportunity to play Lyman Hall again. We are hoping to have that opportunity. We will worry about that if it comes to fruition.”
Lyman Hall beat Sheehan twice en route to winning a share of the SCC Housatonic crown this winter.
Nonetheless, LH coach Tom Lipka said, “I wish it was someone else. Playing teams during the season, they know everything about you. There are no surprises. Sheehan knows us very well. When I first saw that we could play Sheehan in the second round, I said, ‘Oh, no.”
Wallingford, of course, does not have the local market cornered on tournament seeds. Southington and Cheshire qualified in Class LL. Wilcox Tech made the grade in Class M.
All three of those teams open Monday night on the road. No. 21 Southington (12-8) takes on No. 12 Daniel Hand (17-6) in Madison. No. 24 Cheshire (11-10) will be at No. 9 Stamford (16-4).
Wilcox has the toughest draw of all. The No. 32 Indians (8-12) face Class M top seed Holy Cross (19-1) in Waterbury.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Wilcox coach Scott Medeiros. “The team is excited to play. It would be a huge upset for a 32 seed to beat a 1 seed. You never know. Anything can happen.
“We are going to have to play a near-perfect game to win,” Medeiros added. “We have to limit our turnovers. Holy Cross is a very aggressive team that will trap half court or full. We have to be prepared mentally to play.”
Wilcox is back in the CIAC tournament after a one-year absence. Lyman Hall, Sheehan, Cheshire and Southington all made it last year, though to very limited success. Only Southington won a first-round game before falling in the second round.
In qualifying again this year, the Blue Knights extended their area-best tournament run to 14 consecutive years (2000 was the last time they didn’t make it).
In taking on Hand-Madison, Southington coach Mike Forgione might want to consult with Busillo and Lipka. Both played and narrowly lost to the Tigers in SCC crossover play this season. Hand also beat Lyman Hall 63-61 in the quarterfinals of the SCC tournament Saturday on a late 3-pointer.
“We know Hand is a really good team from a really good conference,” Forgione said. “We have been playing that underdog [role] all year and we are going to give it our best shot on Monday night.”
Lyman Hall is familiar with its first-round opponent. The Trojans beat Guilford 53-40 in a SCC crossover game on Jan. 24.
“We were able to pull away in the second half,” Lipka recalled. “They are 8-12, but they are a good team and a quality opponent. They could easily have 11 or 12 wins if they didn’t have the injuries they have had.”
The Trojans are juiced to make some noise. Two years ago, this same team was 0-20. As a program, LH hasn’t won a state tournament game since beating East Haven in 2003.
On the other side of Wallingford, the Titans have qualified for states six years running. They are looking for their first CIAC tournament win since knocking off Wolcott 44-43 in double overtime in the opening round of the 2012 dance.
Sheehan faces another Naugatuck Valley League team Tuesday in Torrington. The Red Raiders, thanks to the scouting of Busillo, aren’t wholly a mystery to the Titans.
“I was lucky enough to get out and see them a couple of times,” the Sheehan coach said. “They are going to present a challenge for us, but I honestly believe if we play up to our capabilities, we can go up there and get a win.
“It’s going to come down to what kind of quality shots we can get and if we can play good defense and rebound,” Busillo continued. “We have to keep it simple and play the style of defense we are capable of. If we do that and our good players play to their capability, I think we will be OK.”
Cheshire is making its fourth straight trip to the state tournament, a run that coincides with the career of senior point guard Missy Bailey, who on Wednesday was named All-Housatonic for a fourth straight year. The Rams are looking for their first tournament win since upsetting No. 4 Ridgefield back in 2011, Bailey’s freshman year.
So there is some precedent for success against FCIAC teams for Big Red. Should the Rams knock off the Black Knights on Monday, they might have to travel back to Stamford on Thursday to play No. 8 Westhill.
Southington, with a victory over Hand, would either host No. 28 Darien of the FCIAC or travel to No. 5 Amity of the SCC Housatonic.
Amity: That’s another team Lyman Hall and Sheehan know quite well. Maybe Forgione should saunter over to Lipka and Busillo’s side of the gym. It’s tourney time. It’s time to dance and mix it up and break the ice.