Griswold outlasts Killingly 65-58 to capture ECC Division II title
Mohegan — Griswold was trying to close out Wednesday night’s Eastern Connecticut Conference Division II boys’ basketball final when senior Christian Russell stepped to the free throw line.
The sure-shooting Russell was just the player Wolverines head coach Rob Mileski wanted at the line.
To think that a year earlier, Russell was a junior varsity player and considering quitting.
Mileski and the rest of Griswold are sure happy Russell stuck around. He made six 3-pointers and scored a game-high 24 points as the top-seeded Wolverines beat No. 3 Killingly, 65-58, at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“I was mainly on JV, so I was kind of upset and down on myself,” said Russell, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “I didn’t know if I was going to stick with basketball or call it quits. But (Mileski) talked to me (and) asked me to stay.
“Then I worked harder and earned a spot on varsity. Now I’m still here.”
Senior Jeff Souvenance (17 points) and classmate Jacob Strain joined Russell on the all-tournament team for Griswold (20-3).
“It’s amazing how far he has come in such a short period of time,” Mileski said about Russell. “Now his numbers are off the charts.
“I’m really proud of him.”
Senior Yianni Baribeau and sophomore Johnny Kazantzis both scored 22 points for Killingly (17-6) and were named to the all-tournament team.
Griswold led 39-30 at the half but Killingly wouldn’t go away. Kazantzis made a three and Thomas Dreibholz followed with a free throw to cut the Wolverines’ lead to 59-58 with 3 minutes, 17 seconds left.
Souvenance made back-to-back layups to give Griswold a little breathing room, then Russell made two free throws with 17 seconds remaining for the final points.
The title was the culmination of four years of work for the seven seniors who had to contribute early.
“Last year there’s no seniors,” Mileski said. “Not a single senior and here they are. And so it would have been very disappointing not to be where we are based on having them so long and how competitive they are and how good they are.
“I know these guys (well). They’re at my house and we have a good time. It’s a good relationship I have with these guys. I’m going to miss them. Holy smokes.”