Patrick Murphy had a forgettable first 28 minutes in the Shelton High School boys’ basketball game against Sheehan High in Wallingford Friday night.
Murphy had been held scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting, and the Gaels were trailing by a point.
But the senior sprung to life over the final four minutes, scoring nine points and leading the Gaels to an exciting 55-52 come-from-behind victory over the Titans.
Murphy hit back-to back 3-pointers starting at the four-minute mark to lift Shelton into a 48-43 lead with 3:16 remaining in the game. He then made 3-of-4 foul shots in the game’s final minutes as the Gaels hung on for the victory.
“He’s our senior captain with the most varsity experience,” said Shelton coach Brian Gardiner. “We had faith in him and look at what he did.”
It was Shelton’s first victory at Sheehan in nine years, according to Gardiner, whose Gaels improved to 6-3 overall and 3-1 in the Southern Connecticut Conference Housatonic Division, and moved within half-a-game of Housy Division leader Cheshire. The loss dropped Sheehan to 5-5 overall and 1-2 in the Housy.
The teams played an evenly-matched, defensive-oriented game through the first half.
The Titans led by as many as five points, 17-12, mid-way through the second quarter, but Shelton used a 9-4 run to deadlock the score at 21 by halftime.
Mike Davis led Shelton offensively with eight points in a first half that saw six Gaels score.
Matthew Brouilette and Jeff Stockmal each scored a basket early in the third quarter to give Shelton a 25-23 edge. But Sheehan answered with a 12-2 run to take a 35-27 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter largely thanks to seven points from sharp-shooter Tommy Laydon.
Sensing the game starting to slip away, Gardiner called a time out. His Gaels responded out of the break with a 7-2 run to end the quarter, sparked by a Davis conventional three-point play.
Shelton took its first lead since early in the third quarter on a pair of Davis free throws at the 4:51 mark of the fourth quarter to take a 42-41 advantage.
Laydon briefly gave Sheehan the lead back with a scoop layup, but Murphy answered with his pair of treys.
Davis extended the Shelton lead to seven points with a steal and layup to make it 50-43 with 2:55 left.
But the game was far from over. Sheehan scored four straight points before Davis made a couple of free throws.
Laydon answered with a 3-pointer to cut the Gael lead to 52-50 with just 53 seconds remaining.
Murphy hit one of two free throws to make it 53-50, but Laydon was fouled on a three-point attempt with 12 seconds to go.
With a chance to tie the score, Laydon missed the second of three free throws allowing Shelton to cling to a 53-52 lead.
Shelton got the ball to Murphy on the ensuing inbounds play, and Murphy was fouled four seconds later. The senior calmly sank two free throws to extend the Gael lead to 55-52.
Laydon, having already made five treys on the night, got the ball as expected on Sheehan’s final possession. He got a decent look from 23-feet away, but the shot missed its mark.
A long rebound gave the Titans a chance to make a final heave at the buzzer, but that also missed allowing Shelton to escape with the hard-fought victory.
Gardiner was elated with the play of Davis, who led Shelton offensively with 19 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field.
He also praised the effort of Justin Lynch (five points) and Brouilette (seven points with a team-high 10 rebounds), who did a lot of the blue-collar work for Shelton.
“Those are the plays that don’t show up in the box score,” said Gardiner.
Playing without senior center Christian Federici, who is expected to be out another week or two due to injury, the Gaels are within two wins of qualifying for the state tournament.
“To get a win up here without [Federici], I am proud of them,” said Gardiner, whose team wraps up a three-game road swing with tough games at Notre Dame of West Haven and Hand of Madison this week.
The only possible downside to Friday night’s win was Shelton’s struggles from the free-throw line over the game’s final three minutes, which gave Sheehan a chance to send the game into overtime. The Gaels made just 5-of-11 free throws during that stretch.
But on this night, Gardiner would find no wrong with his Gaels. “We made enough,” said Gardiner, grinning from ear-to-ear.