Waterford is heading back to the Sun
New Haven — This unfathomable run for Waterford High School basketball has produced its share of buzzer beaters, gutbusters and Maalox Moments in the past nine years.
But maybe never anything like this.
The Lancers, down five with three minutes left, turning the ball over as if it were a grenade, guilty of fouling a three-point shooter in the closing seconds of regulation and missing a free throw with under one second left that would have won the game … won it anyway.
Kenny Hill scored nine of his 12 points in overtime — after missing the aforementioned free throw — and the top-seeded Lancers defeated No. 5 Manchester 83-75 in overtime before a frantic crowd at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
Waterford advances to the CIAC Division II championship game Saturday or Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena against No. 6 New Britain. New Britain edged No. 2 Glastonbury, 56-53, in its semifinal.
The Lancers won the 2018 Division III title game and 2019 Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I Tournament titles at Mohegan, making this weekend their third appearance at the casino in less than a calendar year. Waterford (25-1) also won for the 40th time in its last 41 games.
“I really didn’t show up for my team (in regulation), so I had to be there in overtime,” Hill said, alluding to foul trouble that kept him on the bench much of the second half. “I’ve never been part of anything like this.”
Manchester (20-6) had a two-point lead with the ball in the final minute. And that’s when Liam Spellman maybe made the play of the year for his team, getting a steal and subsequent jump ball in possession of Waterford. After a timeout, J.J. Brennan hit a three with 28.5 seconds left — part of his game-high 28 points — that gave Waterford a 67-66 lead.
The Lancers thought they had the game won when the game officials called a charge on Manchester senior Logan Tomlinson with 11 seconds left. Problem: one official ruled a block and the other a charge, leading to a jump ball ruling. Manchester retained possession.
Brennan fouled Dashon King shooting a three with 3.5 seconds left. King made two free throws, giving the Indians a 68-67 lead.
On the inbounds play, Hill was fouled in the backcourt with 0.7 seconds left. He made one of two to force overtime.
The Lancers never trailed in overtime.
“This was pretty amazing,” Waterford coach Bill Bassett said. “My heart was thumping a little bit. We fouled a three point shooter … did things uncharacteristic of our team. But I had faith that if we made bad plays we’d make some good ones, too.”
Payton Sutman, who made a huge three pointer late in regulation to tie the game at 63, added 19 for the Lancers.
Sutman, Ryan O’Connell and Brennan hit early threes to give the Lancers what became a 10-point lead after the first quarter. Manchester scored six straight to begin the second, but Waterford pushed the lead to 10 late in the half, helped along by Nate Landon’s late offensive rebound that led to Brennan’s three.
Manchester scored the last five points of the half, while Bassett had four starters resting, to get within five at 34-29.
Manchester’s quickness began to rattle Waterford in the second half.
“The difference between Manchester and all the other teams we’ve played is their quickness, length and their ability to tip passes,” Bassett said. “They read their trap unbelievably.”
Ah, but if the point is to survive and advance...
“The stakes were huge and to fight back the way we did,” Bassett said, “this is the best game I’ve been part of.”