Pictured: Old Lyme’s Aedan Using has the attention of Cromwell defenders Albert Gianluca (left) and James Grodzicki in the fourth quarter of Monday’s Shoreline game. Using scored 13 points and the Wildcats gained a share of the regular-season conference title with a 70-46 win.

By Paul Augeri

OLD LYME – The last time Old Lyme and Cromwell shared a basketball court before Monday night was for the 2019 Shoreline Conference championship. Cromwell won the game, in overtime, its second win over the Wildcats in as many weeks.

It might as well have been 20 years ago.

As Cromwell did last season, Old Lyme has run over and through its Shoreline competition, the latest example a 70-46 crush job over the Panthers. The Wildcats gained a share of this year’s regular-season Shoreline title thanks in part to a 16-0 blitz to open the game, a consistent high-energy attack and a 24-point night from senior Jared Ritchie.

“I couldn’t have dreamed of what was going to go on at the start of the game,” Old Lyme coach Kirk Kaczor said. “You know Cromwell is going to come out and battle. Jumping out to that lead certainly made a big difference for us.”

For the 18-1 Wildcats, the victory was their 11th straight and it locked up the top seed in the Shoreline tournament, which starts Saturday. A win over Morgan on Wednesday would give the ‘Cats a 16-0 mark in conference play.

Cromwell coach John Pinone did not see much of any “battle” in the Panthers who, although they cut their 16-point deficit to eight by the end of the first quarter, were stuck in a permanent state of catch-up the rest of the way.

“We didn’t come out with energy, we didn’t come out with any fire to match their intensity, and 16-0 — it’s embarrassing, to be honest with you that we wouldn’t even make a fight before it’s 16-0. Credit to Old Lyme, they came out and played a lot harder than we did. They took it to us. It just falls on me to make sure that these guys come out an play harder at the beginning of games.

Mike Morgan, with 14 points, was the lone Cromwell player to score in double figures. The Panthers finished the regular season with an 11-9 record, which Pinone said would have been more like 14-6 if his squad started faster and did not lack for “enthusiam or a killer mentality.”

“We have a lot of nice kids, great kids, but that doesn’t translate when you’re between the lines on the basketball court,” he said. “You have to have an edge. When we’re not as physically gifted and we’re not as strong physically and not as tall as the other team, then you have to play even harder. That was the more disappointing thing about that. We didn’t play hard until we were down 16-0.”

Old Lyme, meanwhile, continues to play with purpose.

The Wildcats’ mission is to get back to the Division V final (and win it), and they already have clinched the top seed in the field ahead of Valley Regional and Bullard Havens, who have three losses each. But Kaczor said they are not letting their larger goal interfere with the present.

“We talk about game to game and what we’re going to do next,” he said. (The goal of a state title) is the elephant in the room. We all know what we want to do, but we’re just trying to take it one game at a time.

“We take every team seriously. We come out with fire and intensity every game. Hopefully we continue to do that. That’s our goal, to play hard and play well every game and let things happen as they happen.”

Ray Doll scored 15 points off the bench and Aedan Using had 13 for the Wildcats.

Old Lyme put on a clinic with its passing game, especially in the half-court and especially when Using drew a second defender. The Wildcats, particularly Ritchie, scored on a lot of cuts to the basket.

“Aedan is such a dominant player that (opponents) have to double-team him,” Ritchie said. “At the same time he’s an unselfish player and he sees the floor so well. That means easy points for me and others, too.”

The Wildcats pushed their lead to 15 on Using’s turnaround jumper with 52 seconds to go in the first half. After Cromwell’s Justin Valentin scored with 37 seconds left, Old Lyme worked the clock for the final possession. Ritchie’s brother Jacob, a sophomore, drove the lane from the right, crossed inside the paint and went up and under with his left hand to beat the buzzer, giving the Cats a 32-17 lead at the break.

“(Cromwell) kind of went up to double him and baiting him to pass it. I thought he was going to pass it to me,” Jared said. “I’ve seen him make shots like that before. He likes to finish fancy.”

The teams traded baskets in the first four minutes of the third quarter, but the Panthers were able to cut their deficit to 11, 39-28, on a Valentin 3-pointer with 3:18 left.

It did not make much of a dent though, because Jared Ritchie put back a miss underneath, was fouled and completed the three-point play to restore the lead to 14. And after another Cromwell bucket, Old Lyme outscored the Panthers 9-2 over the final 1:53 to take a 51-32 lead into the fourth quarter.

Old Lyme 70, Cromwell 46

Tyler Baldwin 1 0-0 2, Justin Valentin 2 0-0 5, Mike Morgan 6 2-5 14, Nick Polizonis 3 1-1 9, James Grodzicki 2 0-0 4, Zykarie Wilborn 3 1-2 7, Albert Gianluca 2 0-0 5. Totals: 19 4-8 46.

Jackson Warren 1 0-0 2, Ty Dean 2 0-0 4, Brady Sheffield 2 3-4 8, Aedan Using 6 1-1 13, Jared Ritchie 11 2-4 24, Ray Doll 4 6-6 15, John Almy 1 0-0 2, Jacob Ritchie 1 0-0 2. Totals: 28 12-15 70.

Score By Quarters
CR   8   9 15 14—46
OL 16 16 19 19—70

3-Pointers: C—Polizonis 2, Valentin 1, Gianluca 1; OL—Doll 1, Sheffield 1.
Records: Cromwell 11-9, Old Lyme 18-1.

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