No. 4 Waterford, No. 6 East Lyme advance to ECC Div. I boys' basketball final
Waterford — It had been suggested, even by some rival coaches, that as Dev Ostrowski and Mikey Buscetto graduated from their respective programs, the whole East Lyme-Waterford basketball thing would start swirling the bowl, leaving league championships to more traditional outposts.
Ah, but the two programs, clearly with gas left in the tank, were never better and prouder than Saturday, when they both sprung classic upsets in the conference tournament semifinals.
East Lyme, the No. 6 seed, stayed on its rainbow ride and picked off No. 2 New London, 49-46. No. 4 Waterford rode the energy inside the Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse to a dominant the second half, rallying past top-seeded St. Bernard, 61-57.
And the two blood rivals meet for the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I tournament championship Tuesday night at Mohegan Sun Arena (8 p.m.).
"Let's have some fun," Waterford coach Bill Bassett said after his game, alluding to the second East Lyme-Waterford title game in the last five years.
East Lyme (14-8) has taken the more improbable path, winning at No. 3 NFA and over New London. Coach Jeff Bernardi, with his team trailing 46-45 late in the game, devised a textbook inbounds play to free junior Owen Elmer, whose layup with 20 seconds left gave the Vikings the lead for good.
East Lyme has won seven straight.
"It's the heart of this team," Bernardi said. "They refuse to lose. They refuse to give up. They are playing with tremendous heart and passion."
None with more passion than junior Gavin O'Brien, who led the Vikings with 20 points. Elmer had 11. Thirty-four of East Lyme's 49 points came from players who will be returning next season.
"We trust each other," O'Brien said. "We're a family here. This has been a lot of fun. We're going to the Sun, baby."
Senior Rhodia Perry, who gave New London a 46-45 lead, led the Whalers (14-8) with 19 points. Freshman Savahn Warren had 15, 14 of which came in the second half.
Waterford (17-5) trailed 31-23 early in the third period before changing the game with a 13-0 run. Two of senior Jordan Elci's career-high five 3-pointers came during that run, giving the Lancers an eventual 36-31 lead. Waterford outscored St. Bernard 43-31 in the second half.
"I'll be honest. I'm a terrible shooter," Elci said. "But I was feeling it and they were going in."
Elci finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, as did senior Sean O'Connell, who made four key free throws late.
But the biggest free throws came from junior Logan Peabody, who scored all 12 of his points in the second half. Peabody made two with 3.6 seconds left after St. Bernard freshman Amyre Gray gave his team some hope with a late 3-pointer.
"No doubt in my mind those were going in," Peabody said. "I was better in the second half because all the defense's attention was on Jordan and Sean. That made it easier to be more aggressive, get to the basket and see one go in."
Gray led the Saints with 16 points. Devan Williams had 12, Cedrick Similien had 11 and Tyson Wheeler had 10 before fouling out.
And so the championship game nobody saw coming now means the renewal of a longtime rivalry and a big crowd at Mohegan Sun.
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