Pictured: Coginchaug’s Del Cade shoots a jumper in heavy traffic during Tuesday’s Shoreline Conference game at H-K. Defending, from left, are the Cougars’ Evan Fleig (22), Mason Gorham, Giacomo Volpicelli and Chase O’Linn (11).
By Marc Silvestrini
HIGGANUM – Two down, two to go.
For the Haddam-Killingworth boys basketball team, its chances of making the state tournament didn’t look too good after last Friday’s 14-point loss to Valley Regional. The Cougars were left with a 4-9 record.
At that point, they hadto win four of their last seven games to reach the eight-win plateau needed to qualify for tournament play.
But that was before the Cougars became the 21st Century version of Hoosiers.
On Monday, H-K upset St. Paul Catholic 63-62 in dramatic fashion. Twenty-four hours later, the Cougars beat a tough and spirited Coginchaug team 75-66 in double overtime in a game that was infinitely closer than the final score.
All of a sudden, H-K needs to win just two of its last five games to get into the CIAC’s Division V field.
“Those were two of the most exciting wins we’ve had around here in a while,” H-K coach Jim Abbott said.
Abbott said that his team is learning to win the close, hard-fought, down-to-the-wire games.
“We’ve had so many opportunities to close out basketball games over the course of this season, only to come up just a little bit short,” he said. “But we’ve kept working at it. We’ve focused in practice on those little things that help you win basketball games. We’ve been trying to cut down on our mistakes, especially in close games.
“And now all that hard work seems to be paying off.”
While Tuesday’s win improved H-K’s record to 6-9 and kept it alive for March basketball, the loss eliminated the Blue Devils from tournament contention. Coginchaug, which fell to 3-11 on the season, has only four games remaining on its schedule.
H-K senior Giacomo Volpicelli, who scored 24 against St. Paul on Monday, got the Cougars off and rolling by scoring 22 of his team’s first 27 points.
The last three points in that barrage, which came on a 3-pointer from somewhere near the parking lot, gave H-K its biggest lead of the night at 27-15 with 5:45 left in the second quarter.
But the never-say-die Blue Devils spent the next two and a half quarters chipping away at the Cougar lead, sending the game into its first four-minute overtime with the score tied at 62, and into a second overtime with the teams knotted at 64.
Volpicelli then sealed the deal by scoring seven points to lead an 11-2 Cougar outburst over the final two and a half minutes of the second OT.
“I had a good shooting night last night, and I think it just carried over to tonight,” the senior guard said. “I felt pretty good, my teammates kept getting me the ball in good spots on the floor, and the ball kept going in.
“They (Coginchaug) played some real good defense against me in the second half, but then I was able to get things going again in that last overtime period.”
“This,” he added, “was just a huge win for our team.”
Volpicelli led a quartet of Cougars in double figures with 35 points, including seven 3-pointers. Sam Erskine had 13, Mason Gorham, a freshman, scored 11 and Jim McGoey finished with 10.
Justin Penney led the way for Coginchaug with 24 points while Chris Onofrio finished with 12 and Hugh Barrett had 9.
Two free throws apiece by Penney and Derek Grant gave the Blue Devils an early 4-0 lead. Gorham scored on a put back to make it 4-2 before Volpicelli took over, scoring 16 of H-K’s next 19 points, to help the Cougars close the quarter on a 19-9 run.
Volpicelli continued the fireworks display early in the second quarter, hitting a pair of long 3-point bombs on consecutive trips down the floor to stretch the lead to 12, at 27-15, with 5:45 to play in the half.
Penney, however, scored six points over the final four minutes of the half to help the Blue Devils trim the Cougars’ lead to seven, at 32-25, at halftime.
Penney, with six points, and Onofrio, with four, helped the Devils outscore their hosts 15-11 over the first five minutes of the third quarter, slicing the Cougars’ lead to 43-40. McGoey, who scored six of his 10 points in the third quarter, hit a short jumper to stretch the H-K lead to five and, after an exchange of buckets, Sam Erskine nailed a deep three to make it 50-43 with 1:20 to go in the quarter.
But Coginchaug’s Jeremy Mangiameli converted a crisp pass from Tyler Garretson into a layup to enable the Devils to close to with five, at 50-45, entering the final quarter.
Gorham scored from underneath and then hit a layup off a pretty feed from Evan Fleig to lead an 8-5 Cougar run at the beginning of the final quarter, swelling the lead to eight at 58-50.
But a jumper by Penney, a put back by Garretson, an Onofrio free throw and steal and layup by Barrett that was converted into a conventional three-point play allowed the Blue Devils to score eight straight to tie the game at 58 with 2:45 left.
Volpicelli’s layup off a feed from McGoey and two McGoey free throws helped offset a Penney bucket to give the Cougars with a 62-60 lead with1:41 to play. Single free throws by Onofrio and Penney tied the game at 62 in the final minute before the Cougars worked the ball to Gorham in the final seconds of the quarter. But Gorham’s open shot from the deep corner hit the back side of the rim and bounced away, setting up the first overtime session.
The first four-minutes of extra play yielded a pair of free throws by Penney to give Coginchaug a 64-62 lead, and a steal by Volpicelli near half court and drive to the hoop that knotted things at 64.
Gorham began the second overtime session with two free throws and Volpicelli followed with a 3-pointer from the top of the key and a pair of free throws as the Cougars sped off to a 71-64 lead with 1:10 left in the session.
Onofrio broke the Cougar run with a short jumper, but Alec Erskine sank a pair of free throws and Volpicelli scored on another pretty drive to the hoop to set the final score at 75-66.
“I’m actually very proud of this team,” Coginchaug coach Todd Salva said. “I thought we showed a lot of toughness and resilience, especially when we were down by double figures in the second quarter. I thought we played hard and we played together. We did a real nice job of picking ourselves off the floor and getting back into the game.
“This is exactly the kind of thing coaches like to see.”
Salva added that his team will “go all out” in an effort to win its last four games so that his seniors can end their high school careers on a positive note.
The Blue Devils next game will be at Valley Regional on Friday night.
H-K will begin its effort to win at least two more games when it hosts North Branford on Friday night.
Justin Penney 8 7 24, Del Cade 1 0 2, Chris Onofrio 5 2 12, Derek Grant 1 2 4, Hugh Barrett 3 1 9, Jeremy Mangiamelli 2 0 5, Devin Geoghegan 1 2 4, Tyler Garretson 3 0 6, Jake Dykas 0 0 0. Totals: 24 14 66.
Alec Erskine 2 2 6, Mason Gorham 4 2 11, Sam Erskine 4 2 13, Giacomo Volpicelli 13 2 35, Jim McGoey 4 2 10, Evan Fleig 0 0 0, Chase O’Linn 0 0 0, Trey Callender 0 0 0, Tate Callender 0 0 0, Colin O’Brien 0 0 0, Sam Luther 0 0 0. Totals: 27 10 75.
Score By Quarters
C 13 12 20 17 2 2–66
HK 21 11 18 12 2 11–75
3-Pointers: C—Barrett 2, Penney 1, Mangiamelli 1; HK—Volpicelli 7, Sam Erskine 3, Gorham 1.