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Waterford - One of the indications that this wasn't last year came following a timeout in the fourth quarter. Leading by one, Waterford took the floor with a play that coach Greg Gwudz drew up in the huddle.
Perfect pass to the corner. Except it bounced off the intended recipient and out of bounds. Guilford ball.
The ending, however, was befitting the Waterford High School boys' basketball season: a little bit of a struggle, but ultimately a victory.
The Lancers, the 14th seed in the Class L state tournament, outwilled No. 19 Guilford in an opening round matchup Tuesday night, winning 48-40.
Waterford, which graduated its entire starting five from last year's Class M state championship team and was forced to move up a division because of that title, scored 10 straight points in the final two and a half minutes to seal the victory.
The Lancers (14-9) trailed by nine in the third quarter.
"I'm proud of them for just the entire season," Gwudz said. "How many people thought we were going to have a home game in the state tournament and win 14 games? ... Our consolation prize is a trip to Stratford. But we're still playing. We're still riding the bus. That's all you can ask."
Waterford will travel to meet No. 3 Bunnell of Stratford in the second round at 7 p.m. Thursday.
"They average like 85 points a game," Gwudz said. "Sometimes it takes us three games to score 85."
But that doesn't take away what the Lancers accomplished Tuesday, mainly in the second half after trailing 22-17 to Guilford at halftime.
Donny Craig had 20 points and eight rebounds and Schneider Jean-Pierre 18 points for Waterford. It was Jean-Pierre who got the Lancers back in the game with seven quick points in the third quarter, hitting a game-tying 3-pointer at the 2:03 mark. That made it 28-28.
David Willox, who finished with seven rebounds, gave Waterford the 32-31 lead at the end of three with a wide open layup on a pass from Craig. The lead then changed four times in the fourth quarter before Waterford pulled away on the strength of its quickness and free throw shooting.
Craig made it 38-37 with 3:54 to play, hitting both ends of a one-and-one. Danny Martin, the one who missed the inbounds pass a short time before, then scored a layup on an assist from Isaiah Jones, as Martin filled the lane on a fast break to make it 40-37.
The Lancers followed with eight free throws, five by Craig, who finished with 14 points from the line.
Craig, the point guard, was on the junior varsity team until the postseason last year.
"It was good just to get everyone's feet wet in states," said Craig, a junior and one of four returning starters for next year. "It was good to pull away in the second half. Coach told us at halftime we just needed to come out with energy and heart."
"They took the criticism (at halftime) and they turned it up a level," Gwudz said.
Gwudz said that from the beginning of the season, his motto with this team was "don't be average," in spite of the inexperience. The Lancers won on opening day, beating East Lyme 64-60 and had two three-game winning streaks, one in January and one in February.
"I told them, 'We can fall into that average mode. But we're not an average team,'" Gwudz said.