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    Monday, January 30, 2023

    Waterford ends nine-year drought against New London

    New London's Nick Fleetwood (00) loses control of the ball after being trapped by Waterford's Jeff Evans, left, and Kevin Johnson during the fourth quarter of Thursday's ECC Medium Division showdown in New London. The Lancers tied the Whalers for first place in the division with a 71-57 win. (Tim Cook/The Day)
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    New London — Even during this recent run of success, Waterford High School's basketball couldn't shed one wart: A nine-year doughnut against New London. Many opportunities, many failures.

    And then came Thursday night. Finally. It wasn't necessarily artful. There was blood. (No, really). But with the historic 71-57 win at Conway Gym, the Lancers are poised to make even more history in the coming weeks.

    If they beat Plainfield tonight and Stonington on Senior Night, they'll do no worse than share the Eastern Connecticut Conference Medium Division title with New London. It would be Waterford's second ECC boys' basketball title – of any kind – since 1976.

    "We'd never beaten them," tireless senior Jake Mangual said. "Never. I know, as seniors, we've worked very hard at this. Me, Kev (Kevin Johnson), 'G' (Mike Gianakos), Landon (Peabody). It's nice to see it pay off."

    Mangual made consecutive three-point field goals early in the fourth period to stretch a six-point lead into double digits for the Lancers (13-3, 7-1) who won their 10th straight game. Mangual finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds while frontcourt mate Jeff Evans had 11 and 13, both helping guard formidable New London center D. Major Roman.

    "Jake and Jeff are always undersized, it feels like, in every game," Waterford coach Bill Bassett said. "But they play so hard. So much heart. So unselfish. Every time we ask them to do something, no matter what, it's 'yes, coach.'"

    Mangual and Evans were two of the rare Waterford players who managed not to get injured, too. Johnson hurt his finger in the second period, bleeding enough on the court to stop the game for several minutes. On the final play of the first half, Peabody, Waterford's leading scorer, took an elbow to the forehead and was gone into the middle of the third period, also bleeding on the floor.

    "We overcame a lot," Bassett said. "This was a mental toughness game for us. Yes, we can play in big games. Yes, we can beat a great program and New London always will be a great program. There were literally blood, sweat and tears tonight."

    Mikey Buscetto led Waterford with 18 points and seven assists. Johnson and Peabody had 14 and 13 points respectively.

    "Waterford came in with a nice offensive game plan to counteract our defense from last time," New London coach Craig Parker said, alluding to the Whalers' 44-41 win last month, in which the Lancers missed their last 12 three-pointers.

    Waterford made 12 three-pointers Thursday.

    Ariel Cruz led the Whalers (9-7. 7-1) with 14 points. Roman had 11 and Melquann Gomez had 10.

    New London, like Waterford, must win its last two games within the division to share the title. Parker, whose focus is winning state championships, understands that a division title in 2016 wouldn't be so bad.

    "Under the circumstances, to win a division title for this team wouldn't be a bad thing at all," Parker said. "But we've still got work to do."

    m.dimauro@theday.com

    Twitter: @BCgenius

    Waterford's Jake Mangual appears to signal "good night" after hitting consecutive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help the Lancers pull away for a 71-54 victory over New London on Thursday night. Waterford beat the Whalers for the first time in nine years. (Tim Cook/The Day)
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