The scene at Alumni Hall in Fairfield was almost surreal.
Moments after hitting the game-winning shot at the buzzer Friday, Fairfield Prep junior Terry Tarpey was surrounded by a group of little kids chanting "MVP! MVP! MVP!"
"All the little kids want to give me high-fives," said Tarpey, whose short jumper in the lane as time expired gave the Jesuits a heart-stopping 61-59 over Xavier and a berth in Tuesday's Class LL semifinals against Ridgefield.
While the heartbreaking loss ended the tournament run of Xavier, which upset top seed Windsor in the second round Wednesday, the Jesuits (20-6) are taking on a team-of-destiny feel.
They find themselves in the semifinals for the first time since 1997, when Prep won the second of its two basketball state championships.
"It means everything in the world," Tarpey said. "I worked so hard over the summer and in practice. All my teammates are trying to make me better and thankfully it paid off in the last second there."
Friday's game attracted a crowd of 1,811 and was played amid an electric atmosphere that evoked memories of the glory days of the Fairfield University men's program in the 1970s.
When Tarpey's shot went through the nets, the Fairfield Prep students stormed onto the court and wouldn't leave for several minutes, celebrating the school's biggest basketball victory since the Jesuits beat Norwalk 66-60 in the Class LL title game 14 years ago.
"It (the atmosphere) reminded me of Holy Cross-Fairfield U, Boston College-Fairfield U, double-overtime games, the Joe DeSantis days," Fairfield Prep coach Leo Redgate said.
"I'm so proud of the students for coming out. We had people that haven't been to a Prep game in years and years and years coming out of the woodwork. I think it's the energy the team brings night in and night out."
Tarpey had another monster game, finishing with 32 points, 11 rebounds, five steals and three assists. He once again rescued his team, scoring the Jesuits' final eight points after Xavier (17-9) reeled off an explosive 14-0 run in a two-minute span to take a 57-53 lead with 2:03 remaining.
"We obviously know the kid is a super player," Xavier coach Mike Kohs said. "He killed us all game, but especially in the last couple minutes."
While the Jesuits managed a 22-19 lead at the halftime, the contest was played at a slower pace more to Xavier's liking.
Fairfield Prep forced a quicker tempo in the second half and appeared to take control in the third period behind Tarpey and Kevin Potter, who combined for all 18 points in an 18-9 spurt that gave the Jesuits a 42-33 lead after three. Potter finished with 10 points.
But Michael Boornazian got hot for the Falcons, scoring 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter.Jovan Santos hit a pair from the line to put Xavier up 59-55 with 1:29 remaining, and the Jesuits appeared to be reeling.
"The most proud I was all night was when we didn't back down or hang our heads," Redgate said. "We just refused to lose."
Tarpey answered with a lefthanded layup, then scored on a breakaway layup off a steal with 1:08 remaining to tie it. Xavier set up for the last shot, but turned the ball over due to a traveling violation with 40 seconds left.
The Jesuits then worked for the last shot, calling timeout with 18 seconds remaining. Xavier then took its last foul to give with seven seconds to play, setting the stage for one of the most memorable shots in recent Fairfield Prep basketball
"We wanted to get (point guard) Robbie (Bier) to drive and dish to one of our big men," Tarpey said.
The Jesuits exected the play to perfection. With the time running down, Alex Heiman passed to Tarpey, who was cutting into the lane. Tarpey's shot settled through the net as the final horn sounded.
"We were trying to not let the ball get in his hands and we had our best defender on him," Kohs said. "We put Pat Lenehan on him. (Tarpey) drives the lane, probably releases the ball with less than a second to go. He made a super play. The ball rolls around and goes in."
Calling Xavier the best-coached team in the Southern Connecticut Conference, Redgate knew the Falcons would make a run and sensed the game would come down to the final possession. The Jesuits got the ball into the hands of the right
"(Tarpey) has gotten so much better in the last month and a half and I think you have to credit the other guys on the team because they are finding him where he wants the ball," Redgate said.