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Notre Dame Takes Long Streak Into Tournament

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – If fans of boys basketball learned one lesson this season about Notre Dame of Fairfield, it is that the Lancers never quit.

They have flashed that trait at several points this winter, most recently in Tuesday’s 67-64 overtime win over Brookfield. “We have good kids who work hard,’’ said coach Vin Laczkoski, whose team takes an 11-game winning streak into Saturday’s South-West Conference quarterfinals against Weston. “We’re not worried about the streak. We’re just going to worry about our next game.”

Notre Dame fans had every right to be worried early in the season. The Lancers, who reached the Class M semifinals last year, were just 5-4 after losing to Kolbe-Cathedral, 59-42, on Jan. 10. Two players also left the team, including Tre McPherson, the starting point guard.

But the fiery Laczkoski wouldn’t let Notre Dame quit. He adjusted his lineup and gave significant playing time to freshmen Jake Heaton and C.J. Davidson. Sophomore Jaylen Jennings has been a contributor all year. Senior Arkel Miles has been Notre Dame’s anchor in the middle, and Nnamdi Gogoh, also a senior, has played well at guard.

The Lancers could not have made their run without the brilliant play of guards Dan Upchurch and Earl Coleman, both juniors. Upchurch, one of the state’s top players, is as adept at shooting jumpers or driving in the lane. Coleman isn’t far behind. Both players are listed at 6 feet but play much bigger.

For all of their physical skills, however, the Lancers’ biggest attribute might be their collective heart. They simply refused to lose Tuesday’s game against Brookfield, even when they trailed by eight points with 58 seconds to go in regulation. They also rallied in the final minute to beat Bunnell after trailing inside the final minute. “They don’t give up,’’ Laczkoski said. “They just don’t give up.”

Seeing Notre Dame’s slow start, some teams might have figured the Lancers would not be league or state title contenders. “They might be taking us lightly,’’ Coleman said. “We came out a little slow.”

Notre Dame may have started slow, but it is finishing fast. If they beat Weston on Saturday, the Lancers could get a semifinals rematch with Kolbe, which handed Notre Dame two of its losses. Immaculate, the only other conference team to beat Notre Dame, is the No. 1 tournament seed. Notre Dame could see it in the finals, if the team gets that far.

The Lancers are ranked sixth in Class M as of Thursday and are a title contender there as well. But Laczkoski won’t let them look that far ahead, and the Lancers have work to do in the conference tournament.

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