Waterford caps 'Run to the Sun' with 90-67 state championship win over Avon

Waterford's Liam Spellman (10) and Ryan O'Connell (33) join teammates in storming the court after they won the CIAC Division III boys' basketball title on Sunday morning with a 90-67 win over Avon at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Waterford's Liam Spellman (10) and Ryan O'Connell (33) join teammates in storming the court after they won the CIAC Division III boys' basketball title on Sunday morning with a 90-67 win over Avon at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Mohegan — Fingerprints of the entire Waterford High School boys' basketball team were all over its CIAC Division III state championship victory on Sunday.

The Lancers all had a hand in the program's second state title since 2012.

There was point guard and inspirational leader Mikey Buscetto filling the basket to the tune of a game-high 27 points and instilling confidence in his teammates while dishing out 10 assists.

Fellow senior Walker Sutman doing the dirty work inside, setting the tone with eight first-quarter points and five rebounds.

How about junior Liam Spellman, who helped fuel the team to a 28-point third quarter outburst?

And don't forget about junior J.J. Brennan and senior Trevor Yeomans, who both provided a spark off the bench.

Even senior reserve Tyler Peretz got into the act, contributing the game's final basket.

"Playing together is what wins you championships," Buscetto said. "And, as you can see, everyone did their part and we won a championship."

Waterford completed a season-long mission with its most impressive victory of the season, mauling ninth-seeded Avon 90-67 much to the delight of its large fan base in attendance at Mohegan Sun Arena.

"I have no idea what the words are to express this," said coach Bill Bassett, standing near center court during the postgame celebration. "There's relief. There's happiness. I'm so happy for those boys. They have something now for the rest of their lives to hold on to and to bind them together as a team."

Team basketball lifted the second-seeded Lancers to the mountain top.

They were difficult to defend and played at their preferred uptempo pace. They regularly beat the defense down the court for transition baskets, scoring 24 points off of 19 Avon turnovers. They shared the basketball, handing out 19 assists.

Buscetto, the first player to finish with double figures in points and assists in a state title game since the CIAC started keeping records in 2003, led a balanced attack. Spellman chipped in 12 points and eight rebounds and Sutman finished with 11 points and eight rebounds. Brennan (19 points), Yeomans (nine) and their fellow reserves outscored Avon's bench 34-0.

"It's the best feeling that we've felt as a team," Buscetto said. "I'm so proud of these guys. I appreciate all of our fans and all our students coming out. It's just an awesome feeling."

After missing their first seven shots, the Lancers finally found their groove.

Sutman went to work under the basket, scoring eight of his team's first 11 points. His rebound basket handed the Lancers the lead for good at 11-9 and contributed to a 13-2 run.

Buscetto took the scoring baton next, carving up the Avon defense and scoring 11 points in the second quarter to push the Waterford advantage to 42-26 at halftime.

It was Spellman's turn to heat up next, as he poured in 10 points in the third quarter. Some impressive ball movement set up Spellman for a wide-open 3-pointer and he calmly buried the shot for a 47-27 edge.

Avon attempted to get back into the game by pressing.

It backfired.

Waterford kept beating the pressure for easy baskets. Avon never got closer than 15 points.

"I think we scored 10 points straight in transition," Buscetto said. "We just had to keep up the tempo and not let up."

From there, the Lancers cruised to the finish line. It was their 15th straight win and they finished 25-2, adding a state title to Eastern Connecticut Conference division (II) and tournament championships.

The championship victory capped the career of a tight-knit and talented senior class. Buscetto, Yeomans, Sutman, Peretz, Eric Pinch, Max Mazzella and Omar Rahman went out in style.

"This is a dream come true," Sutman said.

Sutman pointed out that they've been more than teammates.

"We're best friends, in and out of the locker room," he said. "Our whole lives, we have been growing up together, playing basketball and other sports and just hanging out. Just our chemistry together has really helped us a lot. It definitely translates (on the court). ... We played really well this year. I'm so proud of my teammates.

"Every single person counts. ... Every single person guided us to this championship." 

It's a bittersweet ending to the season for Bassett, who's obviously thrilled about winning a state title but sad about coaching his veterans for the last time.

"I'm with them four months a year, more than I'm with my own children and my own wife," Bassett said. "It means a lot. I love all these guys and I'm going to miss them dearly."

g.keefe@theday.com

Waterford senior Omar Rahman (4) drives past Avon's Jordan Williams for a basket during the Lancers' 90-67 victory on Sunday morning in the CIAC Division III boys' basketball championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Waterford senior Omar Rahman (4) drives past Avon's Jordan Williams for a basket during the Lancers' 90-67 victory on Sunday morning in the CIAC Division III boys' basketball championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Waterford players head to the student section to celebrate their 90-67 win over Avon in Sunday morning's CIAC Division III boys' basketball championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Waterford players head to the student section to celebrate their 90-67 win over Avon in Sunday morning's CIAC Division III boys' basketball championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Waterford's Mikey Buscetto (5) draws Avon's Brett Muni (10) and Kevin Mullaj (33) to him before delivering a pass for one of his 10 assists during the Lancers' 90-67 victory on Sunday morning in the CIAC Division III boys' basketball championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Waterford's Mikey Buscetto (5) draws Avon's Brett Muni (10) and Kevin Mullaj (33) to him before delivering a pass for one of his 10 assists during the Lancers' 90-67 victory on Sunday morning in the CIAC Division III boys' basketball championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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