The Day – No. 4 Waterford, No. 6 East Lyme advance to ECC Div. I boys basketball final
Waterford – It had been suggested, even by some rival coaches, that when Dev Ostrowski and Mikey Buscetto graduated from their respective programs, all of East Lyme-Waterford basketball would start to swirl the bowl, leaving the league championships to more traditional outposts.
Ah, but the two programs, clearly with gas in the tank, have never been better and prouder than on Saturday, when they both caused classic upsets in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
East Lyme, the No. 6 seed, stayed on their rainbow run and won No. 2 New London, 49-46. The No. 4 Waterford showed energy inside the Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse to dominate the second half, rallying top-seeded St. Bernard 61-57.
And the two blood rivals meet for the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I tournament championship Tuesday night at Mohegan Sun Arena (8 p.m.).
“Let’s have fun,” Waterford manager Bill Bassett said after his game, referring to the second East Lyme-Waterford title game in the past five years.
East Lyme (14-8) took the most unlikely path, winning at No. 3 in the NFA and over New London. Coach Jeff Bernardi, with his team trailing 46-45 late in the game, engineered a classic game to release junior Owen Elmer, whose layup with 20 seconds left gave the Vikings the lead for good.
East Lyme have won seven games in a row.
“It’s the heart of this team,” Bernardi said. “They refuse to lose. They refuse to give up. They play with huge heart and passion.”
None with more passion than junior Gavin O’Brien, who led the Vikings with 20 points. Elmer had 11. Thirty-four of East Lyme’s 49 points came from players who will return next season.
“We trust each other,” O’Brien said. “We’re family here. It’s been a lot of fun. We’re going to the sun, baby.”
Senior Rhodia Perry, who gave New London a 46-45 lead, led the Whalers (14-8) with 19 points. Freshman Savahn Warren had 15, including 14 in the second half.
Waterford (17-5) trailed 31-23 early in the third period before turning things around with a 13-0 run. Two of Jordan Elci’s career-high five 3-pointers came on that run, giving the Lancers an eventual 36-31 lead. Waterford beat St. Bernard 43-31 in the second half.
“I’ll be honest. I’m a terrible shooter,” Elci said. “But I felt it and they were coming in.”
Elci finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, as did senior Sean O’Connell, who made four key free throws late.
But the biggest free throws came from junior Logan Peabody, who scored his 12 points in the second half. Peabody made it two with 3.6 seconds left after St. Bernard rookie Amyre Gray gave her team some hope with a late 3-pointer.
“There’s no question in my mind that these were coming in,” Peabody said. “I was better in the second half because all the defense’s attention was on Jordan and Sean. It allowed me to be more aggressive, go to the basket and see one come in.”
Gray led the Saints with 16 points. Devan Williams had 12, Cedrick Similien had 11 and Tyson Wheeler had 10 before committing a foul.
And so the title match no one saw coming now means the renewal of a long-standing rivalry and a big crowd at the Mohegan Sun.