Waterford outlasts Southington to reach CIAC Division III semis

Waterford — It wasn't quite Willis Reed (Reed is a little taller), but out sprinted Mikey Buscetto from the Waterford High School locker room early in the fourth quarter Saturday night to a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 1,000 at the Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse.

Moments earlier, late in the third period, Buscetto lay still on the floor, clobbered on the way to the basket. Oh, his aching head. Oh, the humanity, too. Here were the Lancers trying to protect a lead in a knockout game. And there was Buscetto four points shy of the program scoring record.

"I was laying there, looked up and saw my dad," Buscetto said after the game inside a jubilant locker room. "I knew he'd never let me lay there for too long. But I've never been hit that hard in the head."

It all ended happily for Buscetto and the second-seeded Lancers, however. They held off stubborn No. 7 Southington and made the Final Four in CIAC Division III boys' basketball tournament after an 80-70 victory. Waterford (23-2) will play No. 3 Prince Tech in the Div. III semifinals Tuesday night at a site and time to be determined.

And yes, Buscetto, who scored 28 points, became the program's scoring leader after making two free throws with 1:27 remaining. He eclipsed Sam Cheung's old record of 1,404 points.

Waterford coach Bill Bassett — shirt and tie and all — spent some time before the game shooting with and rebounding for Buscetto, who joined six other seniors in their last game at the "X."

"I told Mikey 'you are the king of this court. This is your floor,'" Bassett said. "And he went out and played like it."

The king had quite a supporting cast, too. Like classmate Max Mazzella, who earlier in the day decided he would attend and play football at Cheshire Academy. Mazzella, who finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks, grinned at the genesis of his pregame motivation.

"My dad kicked me in the (rear) this morning," Mazzella said.

Then he grinned a little more and said, "I didn't want this to be my last game. I knew it would be physical and I like that."

Eric Pinch, who ably handled the ball in Buscetto's absence, had 10 points as his Liam Spellman.

Southington (17-7) trailed by as many as 13 in the third period, but rallied to within six (60-54) after Buscetto left with the injury. The Blue Knights got as close as 71-67 in the final two minutes, but the Lancers made enough free throws to keep their season alive.

Colin Burdette led Southington with 19 points.

Prince Tech, Waterford's opponent in the semifinals, defeated East Lyme and NFA this season, but lost at New London. Tuesday's game was a more popular topic for Buscetto than the scoring record.

"I really wasn't thinking about that," he said. "I just went out and played. The game was too important for us. We want to go to Mohegan Sun."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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