East Lyme boys' basketball beats NFA to win ECC Division I title outright
Norwich — The East Lyme boys' basketball team has prided itself on its mental toughness this season. The Vikings have played a good schedule. They've been in tight spots. They've pulled through and won almost all the time.
The roof hadn't just caved on East Lyme in the third quarter of Tuesday's game against Norwich Free Academy, it had caught fire, too. The Vikings' 15-point lead that quarter had quickly shrunk to two points as NFA's smothering defense was causing them to cough up the ball over and over and over.
"I was kind of upset because they were just dumb turnovers," East Lyme's Dev Ostrowski said. "I almost lost it (my composure) a couple of times."
The Vikings settled down in the fourth quarter with Ostrowski leading the way. He scored 11 of his team's 16 points that period as East Lyme ground out a 48-38 win at Alumni Gym to win the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I championship outright.
The Vikings (15-2, 7-1) last won a division title in 2010.
"As soon as we won our first four or five games, I knew this was our season," Ostrowski said. "We've got to take it one game at a time because every team is going out for us."
Ostrowski had a game-high 18 points and eight rebounds with two steals for East Lyme (15-2, 7-1). Luke Leonard added nine points, five rebounds and two steals.
NFA is 12-6, 5-2.
East Lyme led 30-15 with 5 minutes, 3 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, had missed 17 of their 22 shots up to that point and had to do something to shake the Vikings up. They opted to go a diamond-and-one defense and draped themselves over East Lyme.
"When you start to get desperate ..." NFA coach Chris Guisti said with a grin when discussing the switch.
East Lyme wilted under the pressure and turned the ball over six times that quarter.
Wildcats freshman Mason Jackson entered the game with over four minutes left in the quarter and immediately paid dividends with back-to-back 3-pointers to start a 13-0 run. He scored all of his 14 points in the second half.
Brendan Maher followed with a steal and layup for NFA. Moments later, Leonard, East Lyme's point guard, turned the ball over, picked up his fourth foul and had to go to the bench.
Steals by Alec Gomes and Maher led to two easy layups. Aidan Miller (10 points) made the second of two free throws to cut NFA's deficit to 30-28 with 1:01 left in the third.
East Lyme led by four points with less than seven minutes in the game when Ostrowski took over. He made two free throws and then went coast-to-coast for a layup to push the Vikings ahead 39-28 with five minutes left.
"I harp to Dev, 'You are your most dangerous when you're in transition if you get stops,'" East Lyme coach Jeff Bernardi said. "'You get rebounds, you're off (in transition),' and that was really our offense in that fourth quarter. Dev would get the rebounds and then blow by everybody. They're usually going to foul him or he's going to get to the rim. That's what happened. That's good offense."
The Vikings could start to exhale when J.R. Gandenberger, who was double-teamed up high, whipped the ball to a wide-open Brent Simeon under the basket for an easy layup. It pushed East Lyme's lead to 41-32 with 4:27 remaining.
"I know that it was ugly from an offensive standpoint from the stands," Guisti said. "Coach Bernardi preaches great man-to-man defense and tonight, (the Vikings') defense was better than our offense. That was the difference."
Ostrowski made seven of his eight free throws to close out the game.
"This late in the season, we have that mental toughness where we can pull out this kind of game," Gandenberger said.
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