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Waterford — Chris Guisti took the final snip of the net, turned carefully and hoisted it toward the heavens for all to see Friday night, symbolically illustrating the recent ascent of his program.
And then Guisti, in his first season as the head boys' basketball coach at Norwich Free Academy, punctuated the occasion by taking a swan dive into his sea of players gathered beneath him.
Even better news: They caught him.
"I don't want to be repetitive," said Guisti, the coach of the brand new Eastern Connecticut Conference champs, "but I trust them and they trust me."
It was trust, not to mention contributions from everyone who played, that helped the Wildcats earn a 58-54 victory over Woodstock Academy in the ECC tournament final before a full house of 1,700 fans at the Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse.
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Marcus Outlow scored the game's first nine points — three straight 3-pointers in the opening minutes — that gave NFA (18-6) a lead it never relinquished.
Outlow's steal and layup in the final minute all but sealed it, too.
And then there was his defense on Woodstock guard Chris Lowry.
"It was great to give our team that momentum off the bat," Outlow said, after finishing with 19 points. "A great team win. I'm so proud of everyone."
Woodstock never got closer than three.
"I told the kids it was my fault. We were in the wrong defense to start the game," Woodstock coach Greg Smith said. "It was a straight 3-2 (zone) and Marcus lit us up. One-hundred percent my fault, not theirs. The kids battled. ... All the credit to coach Guisti and his team. They outplayed us by a couple of baskets."
Senior Desmond D'Elia-Miller led NFA with 21 points. D'Elia-Miller, crying tears of joy after the game, carried on his family name well at NFA. He is the son of former NFA point guard Leonard Miller.
Mike Ryan, who joined D'Elia-Miller and Outlow on the all-tournament team, had 10 points and seven rebounds, adding to his 15 points from Wednesday's semifinals.
Guisti also saluted point guard Ramel Williams, who made two key free throws late, despite battling and illness. Williams had a game-high eight assists.
"Even though we were predicted to lose, I really felt like Woodstock was playing with house money," Guisti said. "They have a state title under their belt. I think the way we've been playing, most people, at least the spectators and not the experts, thought we would win. When Marcus hit those threes early, I knew it."