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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    Griswold boys’ hoop loses to Cromwell in D-IV semifinals

    Griswold’s Evan Merchant (11) and Christian Russell (23) hug head coach Rob Mileski after their loss to Cromwell in the CIAC Division IV semifinal boys’ basketball game Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at Waterford High School. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Griswold’s Lucas Strain (1) defends against Cromwell’s Jay Salafia (23) during the CIAC Division IV semifinal boys’ basketball game Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at Waterford High School. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Griswold’s Jeff Souvenance (12) goes up for a shot against Cromwell’s Jacob Salafia (23) and Keanu Gomez (33) during the CIAC Division IV semifinal boys’ basketball game Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at Waterford High School. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Griswold’s Michael Strain (3) goes up for a shot against Cromwell’s Tyler Daniele (20) during the CIAC Division IV semifinal boys’ basketball game Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at Waterford High School. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Waterford — Griswold head coach Rob Mileski was talking to reporters following his team’s 63-54 loss to top-seeded Cromwell in Wednesday night’s CIAC Division IV boys’ basketball semifinal when a round of applause broke out in the background.

    The applause was from a throng Griswold fans who remained inside the Waterford High School field house to wait for the players to exit the locker room after the game.

    “I’ve known these kids for so long, at least from a basketball camp when they were eight years old,” Mileski said. “Our banquet, I’m going to be like Jimmy Valvano (at the 1993 ESPYs). ‘I’m going to talk long, and that’s the way it is.

    “I’m going to miss these guys (the team’s seven seniors). I love them. (They’re) a special group.”

    The best season in 19 years came to an end for the fourth-seeded Wolverines (22-4), highlighted by winning the ECC Division II tournament championship.

    Griswold trailed 27-25 at halftime on Wednesday when the Panthers (24-2) began to pull away. Senior center Tyler Daniele opened the third quarter with 11 straight points as he gave the Wolverines fits around the rim.

    Daniele scored 13 of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter, including a late layup that gave Cromwell a 40-30 lead. He also had seven rebounds, including five offensive.

    “(Daniele) hurt us early in the third quarter,” Mileski said. “That’s a solid team.”

    Junior Victor Payne scored 15 for the Shoreline Conference champion Panthers. They’ll play No. 3 Ellington in this weekend’s state final at Mohegan Sun Arena.

    The Purple Knights beat No. 10 Seymour 58-41.

    Cromwell has won nine state titles, including two this century (2009 and 2018).

    Asked if he thought at the beginning of the season if his team could reach the championship game, Panthers head coach John Pinone laughed and said, “No. I didn’t think we were big enough, physical enough to play when we got to the state tournament.

    “I’m glad to say I was wrong.”

    Senior Lucas Strain had 16 points, six steals and five assists for Griswold and classmate Evan Merchant added 17 points and four rebounds.

    “That’s a really good basketball team,” Pinone said about the Wolverines. “They played really hard. They’re aggressive. I mean, they just dominated us in the first half on second (chance) shots, third (chance) shots. We were really lucky to be up two at halftime to be honest with you.”

    The Wolverines scored eight straight in the second quarter to go ahead, 23-20.

    Cromwell answered with a 7-2 run. It included a three by senior Logan Mure that put it ahead to stay, 25-23, with 1 minute, 4 seconds left in the half.

    “I got emotional before the game because I said (to the team), ‘Hey, do you need a rah-rah speech?’,” Mileski said. “One of the guys said, ‘Yeah, coach, we need one of your speeches and I didn’t have it read and I started to make one up. I just got so emotional just thinking about how hard they work.

    “We have nothing to be ashamed of. We’re walking out of here with our heads held high.”

    n.griffen@theday.com

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