STONINGTON — Stonington High didn't know a whole lot about its first-round opponent in the CIAC Division IV boys basketball tournament.
It didn't matter.
Zach Scott regained his shooting groove, the Bears' full-court press was effective and they rolled past Northwestern, 76-52, on Tuesday night.
The victory was Stonington's first in the state tournament since 2013.
"We're excited," said senior guard R.J. Parrilla, who had 11 points, five rebounds and five assists. "This is my first state win, our coach's first state win, so we're just trying to keep it going. We'll try to get some rest and try to stay fresh for tomorrow."
The eighth-seeded Bears (18-6) indeed have a quick turnaround, thanks to Sunday night's snowstorm that pushed the first-round game from Monday to Tuesday. They host No. 9 Old Saybrook (16-5) in a second-round contest Wednesday night. The Rams (16-5) defeated No. 24 Aerospace, 62-48, on Tuesday.
No. 25 Northwestern, a Berkshire League team from Winsted (a 2-hour, 15-minute bus ride away), reached the D-IV semifinals last year. The Highlanders had the element of surprise working for them against Stonington. But that was about it.
"We couldn't find any information on them," Bears coach John Luzzi said. "They're the most guarded team in Connecticut. I didn't know where their strengths and weaknesses were. We were just gonna fight it out and see what happens."
Northwestern (8-13) scored the first basket of the game, but once Stonington unleashed its press and Scott starting hitting, the Bears never trailed again.
Luzzi, who's in his fifth season, said he delayed going to the press until about the three-minute mark of the first quarter.
"That was when we really set it up and said, 'OK, we're gonna pressure these guys. They don't look like they can handle it.' And really, that was the difference in the game," Luzzi said.
Stonington led 15-7 after one period, with Parrilla causing major havoc on defense — he would finish with six steals, many leading to easy breakaway layups.
Northwestern turned it over nine times in the first half.
"We kinda figured out No. 3 (guard Levi Delaney) was their best ball handler, and if we could take him out of the game and pressure the other kids, we could get some easy steals," Parrilla said. "And it worked. We took a long shot on it, and it ended up paying dividends."
When the Highlanders were able to break the press, Stonington's Tyler Fidrych chased Delaney all over the court. Delaney ended up with 14 points.
Scott, meanwhile, the Bears' leading scorer and an ECC first-team Division II All-Star, was coming off a five-point performance against St. Bernard in the ECC Division II finals, a 57-43 Bears loss. But he bounced back with a game-high 23, including five 3-pointers.
With Stonington up 15-9 in the second quarter, Scott hit back-to-back 3s to make it 21-9 with six minutes to go until halftime.
"My teammates, my coaches got my confidence back up, and I just started playing more confident," said Scott, who averages 16.2 points per game.
"After the first [3-pointer] went in, I started feeling it, so I kept going."
"We had a talk the other day," Luzzi said, "and I told him, 'You're gonna have a great game. You're a great player. You're an all-conference player. You've done it a million times before. Forget about the last game and just come out and give us all you've got.' And he was fine."
In the closing seconds of the first half, Cooper Wall (8 points) made a steal and layup, and Parrilla followed with another steal that led to a Wall bucket to give Stonington a 39-23 lead at halftime.
The second half was more of the same.
Back-to-back Scott layups put Stonington up by 20, 47-27, early in the third period. By the end of the quarter, Stonington led 59-37 and the rout was on.
Now Old Saybrook awaits.
"They have one of the leading scorers in the state in Shane Henderson," Luzzi said. "They've got a couple guys that can play. We'll have our hands full, but we'll be ready."
Jacob Geary added 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Bears. Scott had six rebounds and four assists, and Fidrych had six assists.