East Lyme, Waterford win thrillers in ECC D-I boys' basketball semis
Waterford — Several conferences around the state held boys' basketball tournaments on Saturday.
There's no way any league had two better games than the Eastern Connecticut Conference did at "The X."
JR Gandenberger knocked down a go-ahead 3-pointer with 53.3 seconds remaining, his only basket of the game, to help top-seeded East Lyme knock off No. 5 Ledyard, 49-41, in the the first ECC Division I semifinal at Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse.
Not to be outdone, Mikey Buscetto nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with one minute, 17 seconds remaining to lead No. 2 Waterford past No. 3 New London, 65-61, in the nightcap.
What a day.
"There's nothing like high school basketball," Buscetto said. "Tight gym, fans screaming and kids playing hard."
Dev Ostrowski scored 25 for East Lyme (19-3) in its win.
Buscetto had 32 points for the Lancers (20-2).
East Lyme and Waterford will return to "The X" to play for the title on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The Vikings won the only regular-season game between the teams (64-60 on Jan. 18).
St. Bernard made sure there was no drama during its ECC Division II semifinal. Hunter Baillargeon scored 23 to lead the defending champions to a 70-53 win over Lyman Memorial.
The top-seeded Saints (20-2) will play No. 7 Woodstock Academy in Wednesday's final at the same site (5:30 p.m.). The Centaurs beat No. 3 Griswold, 65-61, in their semi.
Gandenberger has been a dangerous 3-point shooter for East Lyme, so Ledyard (14-8) made it a point to deny him the ball. Gandenberger got just enough of a look from the left corner to give East Lyme a 44-42 lead.
"I couldn't really find a rhythm," Gandenberger (five points) said. "They (used) a triangle-and-two (defense) on me and Dev. … I guess I showed up at the right time."
The Vikings' Luke Leonard had a steal moments later for a three-point play. He scored 17 points.
The trio of T.J. Horner, Jacob Peters and Brent Simeon played a huge role in East Lyme's win as they did all they could to keep Colonels center Trevor Hutchins from getting the ball.
Hutchins, the ECC's best double-double threat, had no field goals, finishing with four points and 15 rebounds.
"Without their effort, we're not even in this game," East Lyme head coach Jeff Bernardi said.
Devin Rickerson scored 26 for Ledyard, the defending tournament champion.
"They did a really nice job on Hutchins," Colonels head coach Dave Cornish said. "He was exhausted. He exerted a lot of energy (in Friday night's quarterfinal) to get here."
The Colonels' quarterfinal at NFA was postponed one day due to the threat of inclement weather.
"I thought we should've played Thursday," Cornish said. "I really wish we could've even pushed (the semis) to Monday. … I thought we lost our legs, but I give East Lyme credit."
Waterford trailed New London for most of the second half. That changed when the Lancers' J.J. Brennan got into a groove. He made three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and finished with 10 points.
"When he doesn't think about it (shooting), he doesn't miss," Buscetto said. "He's one of the best shooters in this league, and I think he knows that now."
The game was tied at 60 when Waterford called timeout with 1:27 remaining.
Some teams might play for the last shot.
Not the Lancers.
"We had a double screen at the top," Buscetto said. "I saw I was wide open, and I just let it fly. … I wasn't going to get too many open looks."
Buscetto made the three.
"He's a four-year senior starting point guard," Waterford head coach Bill Bassett said. "I trust him."
Walker Sutman had eight points and eight rebounds for the Lancers.
Isiah Benson (15 points) was his usual beastly self on the boards for the Whalers with 18 rebounds. Jalen Benson had 18 points and seven rebounds, Elijah Martinez scored 12 and Edwardo Gonzalez added 10.
"I thought we had a good effort," Whalers head coach Craig Parker said. "We played hard. We competed. We could've made a few more shots here-and-there, but we didn't."
St. Bernard led Lyman 22-12 after the first quarter with Baillargeon beating the buzzer from about 40 feet out.
Max Lee scored 13 points for the Saints while De'Andre Williams and Joseph Beltan each had 10.
"Definitely workmanlike," St. Bernard head coach Mark Jones said of his team's effort. "We've got a great group of kids, man, and they're really focused and their dedicated to this team, trying to win a championship."
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