Top-seeded Waterford uses 23-3 run to put away No. 8 Warde

Waterford — Fact about competitive people: They don't take time to dissect the moment when they're immersed in it.

And so while six Waterford High School seniors knew this was their final game in their beloved Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse Friday night, there was no caving to sentiment. Too much hope and wonder of what lies beyond.

The top-seeded Lancers left the 'X' by marking their spot in the Final Four for the fourth time in the last nine years, defeating No. 8 Fairfield Warde, 79-52, before more than 1,200 fans. They'll play No. 4 Manchester, an 81-65 victor over No. 5 Amity, in the CIAC Division II boys' basketball tournament semifinals on Tuesday night at a site and time to be determined.

Seniors Liam Spellman, JJ Brennan, Kenny Hill, Dylan Eckhart, Nate Landon, Cadin Maynard and the rest of the Lancers (24-1) won for the 39th time in their last 40 games.

Waterford has also appeared in the semifinals in 2012, 2014 and 2018.

"Before the game, sure, we knew this was the last time in here for the seniors," junior Payton Sutman said. "But we knew this wasn't going to be our last time playing together. No way Oak (junior Ryan O'Connell) and I were going to let those guys go out with a loss."

The final score belied the competitiveness of most of the game. Waterford led 44-35 after what had been three quarters of pushing, shoving and woofing.

And then the Lancers blitzed Warde with a 23-3 run, highlighted by three straight 3-pointers from Sutman, Brennan and O'Connell, before Sutman threw down a dunk that blew the roof off the building.

"They started pressing us," Sutman said. "We broke it every time."

Brennan led the Lancers with 25 points, while Sutman and Hill had 17 apiece. O'Connell finished with 10.

"We were well aware this would be our last game here," captain Liam Spellman said. "No way we were losing."

Waterford led 30-19 at halftime.

Matt Becker, saddled with foul trouble, led the Mustangs with 12 points.

"This place is very special to our players," Waterford coach Bill Bassett said. "And they really embraced the moment tonight. I thought we did a great job attacking them in the fourth quarter. I remember one of their kids hit a three and there's Liam hitting JJ with a long pass for a quick layup at the other end. That's deflating."

Manchester, which hails from the formidable Central Connecticut Conference, played East Catholic and East Hartford twice during the regular season, part of a very competitive schedule.

"We're all glad to keep playing," Spellman said. "It's great to leave here with a win. But we have more to do. We're not playing for second place."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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