NEW BRITAIN — As the final seconds ticked off of his team’s 73-60 victory over HMTCA in the Division V quarterfinals, Innovation point guard Carlos Gonzalez had some last words for teammate Ramiesh Bogle.
“We’re not done. We’ve got two more, ” a locked-in, businesslike Gonzalez told Bogle, holding up two fingers to signify the Ravens’ boys basketball team’s ultimate goal — raising a state championship trophy this weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena.
On Tuesday night, the two guards helped the Ravens get one step closer by reaching the state semifinals, taking early control over HMTCA and finishing off the win with composure, leadership and big plays down the stretch.
“[We didn’t] rush things,” Bogle said. “We calmed it down, didn’t rush, slowed it down and let the game come to us. It’s like a rivalry game because they thought they would come in here and beat us so we came out and fought.”
The No. 1-seeded Ravens (22-2) had to fend off several second-half runs by the ninth-seeded Phoenix (15-8).
The Ravens jumped out to a 20-9 lead to close the first period by forcing eight turnovers and surviving seven of their own.
LJ Hazelwood — who finished with a game-high 23 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks — was dominant in the first quarter, scoring 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including a one-handed floater, a drive and finish off the glass and a tip-in off his own miss.
Lenny Okonya, who ended his night with 17 point, 17 rebound and five blocks, then capped the quarter with a 3 at the buzzer, and his breakaway one-handed slam gave the Ravens a 10-point lead early in the second.
Gonzalez (11 points, 6 assists) buried a trey of his own from the left wing, Bogle (12 points) hit a triple off an assist from Gonzalez, and Okonya gave Innovation a 19-point lead with a layup at the 1:10 mark en route to a 41-24 halftime cushion.
But the Phoenix responded, as Alex Quinones splashed a trey to tie the score at 46-36 with 3:25 left in the third quarter, and Innovation head coach Matt Lance burned a timeout at one of the game’s most important junctures to try and collect his team.
“I’m gonna be honest, there’s nothing calm, cool or collected about me,” Lance said. “You’ve seen me coach, I’m high energy. But I try to get them to understand during all those timeouts, it wasn’t like I was changing up anything tactically. It was a matter of just, ‘Hey, keep your man in front of you with your feet, rebound and get loose balls.’ When they were able to get back in there, they weren’t necessarily hitting their first shot. They were outworking us. They were getting second-chance opportunities, offensive putbacks and threes off of offensive rebounds. So I said, ‘Guys, this is what we work on all season. This is what we pride ourselves on. Finish possessions with rebounds.’”
The Ravens obliged their coach, exploding for a 10-0 run out of the timeout for a 20-point lead. Hazelwood rolled in a mid-range jumper out of the timeout, and HMTCA committed a foul on the box out.
Okonya hit a layup, and the next time down, Hazelwood found a cutting Bogle for an and-one. Okonya then hit a layup off an assist from Hazelwood, who grabbed an offensive rebound off of Bogle’s free throw miss.
When the Phoenix again cut their deficit to 10 with a Mathieu Augustin and-one at the 6:15 mark of the fourth, Gonzalez and Bogle combined for one of the game’s most critical plays.
Gonzalez pump-faked on the perimeter, dribbling past his initial defender and drawing another defender toward him. He then found a wide-open Bogle, who drained a huge 3 for a 61-48 lead.
HMTCA narrowed its deficit to nine points twice in the final five minutes, but Bogle’s shot with a little less than six minutes left proved to be the victory’s most important momentum swing.
“[After that shot], it was like you look up at the scoreboard and we’re responding. Let’s go. Let’s keep going,” Gonzalez said.
The Ravens will face No. 5 Valley Regional (17-5) on Wednesday in the semifinals. A time and location for the matchup is to be determined.
For Gonzalez and his teammates, who he calls his brothers, the quarterfinal victory is far from the last step the Ravens want to take this season.
“We’ve got two more. I told my brother [Ramiesh], ‘I love y’all,’” Gonzalez said. “We’ve only been together two years. Everybody expected us last year to bump heads because we were coming from another school, but it’s like, ‘This is two teams combining. This is an opportunity to do something great.’ We all dug in. I said, ‘two more’ because I don’t want anybody to get too excited. We’ve got two more. The job was to come in and win a state championship so if we go lose next round, the job is not complete. We would’ve failed the whole season. The job is to be at Mohegan Sun and be able to call ourselves the state champions.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org