Waterford boys take short trip to Sun to play Avon for CIAC Div. III basketball title

Mohegan — A frequent narrative for the eve of the state championship game is to cave to sentiment, how it all began the first day of practice, weaved through setback and triumph, finally landing at the culmination game.

But it didn't begin in December for the Lancers of Waterford High, whose boys' basketball team, playing before throngs of fans all season, sees the biggest crowd of all Sunday at 10:30 a.m., maybe the whole town at Mohegan Sun Arena for the CIAC Division III championship game against Avon.

It began before that, in the spring and summer, when the nucleus of the team traveled throughout the state and New England, to tournaments and camps in Springfield and Stonehill College, scrimmages against Sacred Heart and Windsor.

Heck, it even began before that, all the way back to grade school. Dan Spellman, whose son, Liam, is a starter for the Lancers, punctuated a recent victory celebration after the Eastern Connecticut Conference title by noting how Pam Pinch, mother of Waterford senior Eric Pinch, was coaching these kids in the sixth grade.

And now all the car rides, bus rides and meals on the run, all the wins, losses, doubts and celebrations culminate on the biggest stage of their lives. The CIAC has turned championship weekend into an event, making the mere berth in the finals an accomplishment. The run to the Sun is complete. Now there's the matter of the game.

"This," senior Mikey Buscetto said earlier this week, "is what we've all worked for."

Indeed. Buscetto, who has set the school assist and scoring records this season, joins six other seniors — Pinch, Omar Rahman, Tyler Peretz, Trevor Yeomans, Walker Sutman and Max Mazzella — playing their last game in Lancer blue. They have a chance to give the program its second state championship in seven years. Last time Waterford made it this far, the starting five of Nolan Long, Geary McLeod, Mike Martin, Ron Baude and Corey Murallo played near perfectly, giving the Lancers their first state basketball title.

That Waterford team and Avon, today's opponent, share this much: five senior starters. Avon has the combination opposing coaches dread at this time of year: a hot team with five starting seniors. The ninth-seeded Falcons, despite their 12-8 record in the regular season, figure to be a worthy opponent.

"Well coached and they've beaten some very good teams," Waterford coach Bill Bassett said of Avon, which eliminated Div. III top seed Guilford and No. 5 Enfield, the team that knocked out East Lyme.

Avon is led by guard Jordan Williams, perhaps one of the most underrated players in the tournament. The Falcons play in the Central Connecticut Conference and share Glastonbury, Farmington and Southington as common opponents. No. 2 Waterford defeated all three schools by an average margin of 18 points per game. Avon split with Glastonbury and defeated Farmington and Southington.

"We can't wait," Buscetto said. "This is what we've dreamed about for a long time."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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