Pictured: Cromwell’s James Grodzicki arches a jumper over the outstretched arm of H-K defender Jimmy McGoey as H-K’s Chase O’Linn (11), Mason Gorham (32) and Tate Callender (23) and Cromwell’s Zykarie Wilborn (22) look on.
By Marc Silvestrini
CROMWELL — Cromwell High turned its defensive intensity up several notches in the fourth quarter Tuesday, limiting Haddam-Killingworth to nine points on just a handful of shots from the floor, turning what had been a tight, hotly contested game through three quarters into a 54-46 win in the quarterfinal round of the Shoreline Conference tournament.
Cromwell (9-3), the tournament’s No. 2 seed, will host No. 3 Valley Regional in the semifinals Thursday (6 p.m.). Valley ousted last year’s Shoreline champion Old Lyme 65-56 in its quarterfinal game.
“We played with some toughness, especially in the fourth quarter,” Cromwell coach John Pinone said. “We played with more intensity on defense and we were able to grab a couple of key offensive rebounds — that’s where the game was won.
“H-K is a dangerous team and they played well tonight,” he added. “I’m just glad we were able to grind it out.”
Cougars coach Jim Abbott agreed that his team had played well, at least for the opening three quarters. No. 7 H-K, which entered the game having won five of its last seven, finishes its season at 7-7.
“We turned the ball over way too many times in the fourth quarter when they turned their defense up a notch,” he said. “We only had two turnovers for the entire first half, but that fourth quarter was a different story.
“They forced us into some mistakes towards the end of the game that led to some easy baskets, plus they had a couple of key offensive rebounds. That was enough to turn the game around.”
Seniors James Grodzicki, Justin Valentin and Michael Morgan paced the Panther attack with 19, 11 and nine points, respectively. Sophomores Mason Gorham and Tate Callender led the Cougars with 17 and 15 points, respectively.
For three quarters the teams fought on even terms as neither was able to assume anything close to a commanding lead. The Cougars grabbed a six-point lead on two occasions late in the second quarter while Cromwell was never able to build more than a five-point lead through the first 24 minutes of play.
Cromwell entered the final quarter nursing a 39-37 lead before H-K’s Tony Giambanis converted a strong drive through the lane to knot things at 39 apiece with 7:17 to play.
After Cromwell’s JJ Feehan and Callender exchanged buckets to keep things tied at 41-each, Valentin hit a pair of free throws and Morgan scored five points in a row to give the Panthers their biggest lead of the game at 48-41 with 2:44 to play.
Chase O’Linn hit a 15-footer to bring the Cougars back to within five with 2:27 to play, but Connor Daly, Zykarie Wilborn, Morgan and Grodzicki all hit key free throws down the stretch to expand the Panther lead to 53-44 with 46 seconds to play.
Wilborn not only aided Cromwell’s late-game run by hitting a big free throw, but he also grabbed two offensive rebounds on two of his teammates’ missed free throws, enabling the Panthers to retain possession and take more time off the clock.
“Those offensive rebounds really hurt,” Abbott said.
“For four years, Coach has been telling us you’ve got to go after those rebounds, you’ve got to want that ball more than the other guy,” Wilborn said. “That’s how you win. More rebounds mean more possessions. More possessions mean more points.”
Keyed by a 10-point outburst from Gorham and four points from Giambanis, H-K outscored the Panthers 17-10 over the first six minutes of the second quarter to turn a 10-9 Panther lead after one quarter of play into a 26-20 H-K lead with 1:59 to play in the half.
But a layup by Grodzicki and a long 3-pointer by Valentin enabled the Panthers to close to with a point, at 26-25, at halftime.
Cromwell scored the first five points of the third quarter to sprint to a 30-26 lead, but with just under five minutes to play in the quarter and Cromwell leading by five, Callender scored six points in a row to allow the Cougars to reclaim the lead at 34-33 with 3:16 left in the quarter.
That, however, was the Cougars’ last lead of the game. Grodzicki scored two buckets over the final two minutes of the quarter and Daly converted a drive in the final seconds to give the Panthers a 39-37 lead heading into the final quarter.
“We played hard and we fell short to a very good, very well-coached basketball team,” Abbott said, adding that he thought his team had just completed a “great” season, especially when you consider H-K started the campaign by dropping three of its first four.
“We started playing better after that rough start and we just kept improving as the season wore on,” he said. “I’m very proud of this team.”
Chase O’Linn 1 0 2, Alec Erskine 0 0 0, Mason Gorham 7 0 17, Tony Giambanis 4 0 8, James McGoey 1 0
3, Tate Callender 6 2 15, Callen Powers 0 1 1. Totals: 19 3 46.
Justin Valentin 3 2 11, Connor Daly 2 2 7, Michael Morgan 3 3 9, James Grodzicki 8 3 19, Malcolm
Mention 1 0 2, Zykarie Wilborn 1 1 4, Matt Pepe 0 0 0, Joel Feehan 1 0 2. Totals: 19 11 54.
Score By Quarters
HK 9 17 11 9– 46
C 10 15 14 15–54
3-Pointers: H-K–Gorham 3, McGoey 1, Callender 1; C–Valentin 3, Daly 1, Wilborn 1.
No. 3 Valley Regional 65, No. 6 Old Lyme 56
OLD LYME (7-7)
Colbe Andrews 5 6-8 16, Nick Cox 2 0-2 6, Jacob Ritchie 4 4-4 14, Frank Sablone 3 1-1 7, Caden Monte 0 3-4 3, Calvin Monte 2 0-0 4, Mav Swaney 2 2-4 6. Totals: 18 16-23 56.
VALLEY REGIONAL (9-4)
Jeremy Arnum 7 5-8 21, Simon Partyka 4 0-0 10, Sam Hutchinson 1 0-0 2, James Marsden 6 2-4 17, Saagar Patel 2 0-1 4, Marcus SantaMaria 3 0-1 8, Kyle Montecalvo 1 1-1 3. Totals: 24 8-15 65
Score By Quarters
OL 6 13 16 21–56
VR 19 18 10 18–65
3-Pointers: OL–Cox 2, Ritchie 2; VR–Marsden 3, Arnum 2, Partyka 2, SantaMaria 2.