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East Catholic's too much for Lancers
Hamden — The locker room, so euphoric two nights earlier, was eerily silent Wednesday night, the final night of what became Waterford High School's fun, rewarding basketball season.
The Lancers, if nothing else, could find solace in not having reason to lament any shouldas, couldas or wouldas, following a thorough 81-55 loss to third-seeded East Catholic in the Lancers' second trip to the state semifinals in three years.
"We showed we could play with them but they're relentless," Waterford coach Greg Gwudz said. "They're very structured and they scored quickly. We needed to execute a little better. We knew once they got the lead, they'd be very difficult."
East snapped an early 18-18 tie with a 15-4 run and was never again threatened. Winston Morgan led the Eagles with 22 points while Pat McPadden had 20 and Tyrell Arnum had 18. East will play 12th-seeded Weaver (Weaver beat East twice during the regular season) in the Class M final Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Waterford, meanwhile, was left to recall the memories of an 18-8 season and a run in the state tournament that featured two midcourt celebrations after last-second wins.
"I couldn't imagine playing anywhere else," senior Donny Craig said, after leading Waterford with 15 points. "Our coaches are great. The kids here are family. I hope for the rest of my life I can stay in contact with them."
Craig leaves the program with fellow seniors Danny Martin, Schneider Jean-Pierre and Nick LaFever.
"I told the guys the last seven months have been the toughest of my life and these guys got me through that," said Gwudz, alluding to how several illnesses has affected his personal and professional life. "They brought the whole school together. Every day, they played above themselves. There's no ego. Yes coach, no problem coach. Every single day."
The Lancers return several contributors to this team next season, including forwards Connor Lewis and Kyle McComic and guards Isaiah Jones, Mike Gianakos, Kevin Johnson and Jake Mangual.
"The last few years here, the kids realize they can accomplish anything they want if they work hard," Gwudz said. "We're capable of doing this again."
Gwudz also saluted the Waterford students, who packed the gym at Hamden High School with two busloads.
"It's a home game no matter where we go. It's not like this everywhere else," Gwudz said. "Four years ago when I took over the program, I was at Sportees ordering shirts that said 'Waterford basketball' on them. Someone there hanging out said, 'isn't that an oxymoron?' Not anymore."