Pictured: Portland’s Eli Evison (15) tries pulling in an offensive rebound, but Cromwell’s Louis Friend is there to take it away in the second quarter. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

CROMWELL – Even in victory, Tuesday night’s Shoreline Conference dogfight at Jake Salafia Gymnasium left Cromwell boys basketball coach John Pinone wanting more from his team. That would be the nice way of putting it.

Playing their first game following a two-week, COVID-related pause, the Panthers nearly let a nine-point lead – their largest of the game – go to waste in the final 86 seconds before putting away Portland for a 55-51 win.

Cromwell (6-0) rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit behind Victor Payne, who scored 13 of his game-high 22 points in the team’s 24-point third quarter, and Albert (20 points), who swished both ends of a one-and-one with 3.5 seconds left to ice the win.

But it was the series of not-good-enough possessions in the final minute prior to Albert’s clinching free throws that had Pinone on edge.

Cromwell’s Jake Salafia (left) leaves the court in a good mood at the final buzzer. To his left are Portland’s Evan Johnson and Joe Rusczyk. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

It looked as if the Panthers were home free when Louis Friend, who missed the front end of a one-and-one, scored when teammate JJ Feehan rebounded the miss and fed him for a lay-in with 1:26 left. The basket gave the Panthers a 52-43 lead.

But the Highlanders, whose roster has just reached full strength, began to show their signature fight. Eli Evison, who led Portland with 18 points, hit a wide-open 3 from the wing to close the gap to 53-46.

Albert hit the front end of a one-on-one, but he missed the second – his only miss in 10 trips to the line. Portland rebounded, pushed it up the floor and found Evison for another open look from 3. He drilled it, cutting Cromwell’s lead to four with 41.4 seconds left.

Feehan missed the front end of a one-and-one with 31.1 on the clock. Portland missed twice from the floor but maintained possession after both. Following a timeout with 12.1 seconds left, Jake Thompson scored directly off the inbounds pass from Harrison Collins to make it a 53-51 game.

Cromwell turned it over, the result of an offensive foul, on the ensuing inbounds play with 7.2 seconds left. Collins inbounded again for the Highlanders to Evison, but his potential tying layup skirted the back of the rim. Albert was fouled on the rebound, made the first free throw and, after Portland’s final timeout, the second.

“Don’t get me wrong, it took us a half to shake off the cobwebs, which is another excuse which we don’t use here, but there’s no excuse for missed layups and four missed free throws,” Pinone said. “I just don’t understand the mindset, the lack of intensity, the lack of aggression, the lack of playing with rage and anger when we’re up nine, and we have a chance to put someone away and we get soft. We don’t want to go after it and put the nail in the coffin and finish it.

“We were lucky, flat-out out lucky (Evison) missed the layup.”

The Highlanders lost for the third time in four games to fall to 4-5, but coach David Bradbury Jr. admired his team’s surge in the final minute.

“Overall I really loved the way my boys fought and I want them to hold their heads high,” Bradbury said. “After watching the film, and after the rest of the Shoreline sees this, I think especially the way both teams fought, no question these are two of the better teams in the league.”

“We fought hard,” he added. “We showed a lot of great energy down the stretch. Cromwell did a good job, especially in the second half, of making adjustments and getting us out of our rhythm, pushing us off our blocks, pushing us off our screen. Eli misses that layup in the end … if a couple of free throws go down and we make a few less mistakes, it’s a different ballgame.”

PORTLAND (4-5)
Joe Rusczyk 8 0-1 17, Harrison Collins 3 0-0 6, Jake Thompson 3 0-0 7, Evan Johnson 1 0-0 3, Eli Evison 6 3-8 18. Totals: 21 3-9 51.

CROMWELL (6-0)
Gianluca Albert 5 9-10 20, Louis Friend 2 0-1 4, Victor Payne 9 2-5 22, JJ Feehan 0 0-1 1, Jake Salafia 3 0-0 9, Tyler Danielle 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 11-17 55.

Score By Quarters
Portland……9 13 13 16–51
Cromwell…..7 8 24 16–55

3-pointers: Portland–Evison 3, Thompson 1, Johnson 1, Rusczyk 1; Cromwell–Salafia 3, Payne 2, Albert 1.
Up next: Portland vs. Simsbury, Wednesday, 6:45; Cromwell vs. Valley Regional, Saturday, 5.

In other games Tuesday:

Bristol Central 80, Middletown 50

MIDDLETOWN (3-3)
Chace Petgrave 4 0-0 11, Matt Steuerwald 4 2-2 12, Tim Vaughters 1 0-0 2, Omar Gutierrez 1 0-0 3, Elijah Wilborn 2 1-2 5, Quadir Murphy 1 0-5 3, Marshall Butler 1 0-0 2, Justice Freeman 1 0-0 2, Branden Torres 2 0-0 4, Nasir McDaniel 2 0-0 5, Adison Brown 0 1-2 1. Totals: 19 4-11 50.

BRISTOL CENTRAL (10-0)
Victor Rosa 3 1-2 7, Damion Glasper 6 4-4 17, Steve Alseph 5 0-1 12, Zach Vanesse 2 0-0 5, Aaron Brown 1 0-0 3, Jelani Walton 1 0-0 2, Carson Rivoira 4 0-0 11, Julius Powell 2 0-0 4, Donovan Clingan 8 3-4 19. Totals: 32 8-12 80.

Score By Quarters
Middletown………9 12 11 18–50
Bristol Central…23 19 25 13–80

3-pointers: Middletown–Petgrave 3, Steuerwald 2, Gutierrez 1, Murphy 1, McDaniel 1; Bristol Central–Rivoira 3, Alseph 2, Glasper 1, Vanesse 1, Brown 1.
Up next: Middletown vs. Prince Tech, Wednesday, 6:45.

Hale-Ray 75, Morgan 67

MORGAN (4-4)
Drew Nye 2 4-4 8, Cooper Galdenzi 6 3-4 16, Tim McComiskey 5 0-0 12, Alex Fratamico 3 4-6 11, Connor Duffy 4 2-4 10, Eddie Dwake 2 0-0 5, Matt Reed 2 0-0 5. Totals: 24 13-18 67.

HALE-RAY (7-2)
Matt Conroy 1 0-1 3, Loudon Chupas 13 2-2 31, Mamush Ciccarello 9 3-4 27, Nate Matetich 3 0-0 7, Avery Gugliotti 3 1-2 7. Totals: 29 6-9 75.

Score By Quarters
Morgan….21 19 13 14–67
Hale-Ray..15 18 26 16–75

3-pointers: Morgan–McComiskey 2, Galdenzi 1, Fratamico 1, Dwake 1, Reed 1; Hale-Ray–Ciccarello 6, Chupas 3, Conroy 1, Matetich 1.
Up next: Morgan at Coginchaug, Friday, 7; Hale-Ray at North Branford, Thursday, 7.

Old Saybrook 42, Valley Regional 35

VALLEY REGIONAL (4-5)
Di’Angelo Jean-Pierre 0 0-0 0, Andrew Yermanson 3 3-4 11, Kevin King 1 0-0 2, Conor Quinn 0 0-0 0, Sam Hutchinson 5 0-0 10, James Marsden 3 2-4 9, Saagar Patel 1 1-2 3, Braydon Shea 0 0-0 0. Totals: 13 6-10 35.

OLD SAYBROOK (5-1)
Wes Nobile 1 0-0 2, Jake Butler 1 0-0 2, Riley Lawson 3 2-2 8, Ryan Stratton 5 3-4 15, Auggie Albert 0 0-0 0, Bradley Kulmann 2 1-2 7, Aaron Tolve 3 2-2 8. Totals: 15 8-10 42.

Score By Quarters
Valley Reg……….7 13 5 10–35
Old Saybrook….12 6 10 14–42

3-pointers: Valley–Yermanson 2, Marsden 1; Old Saybrook–Kulmann 2, Stratton 2.
Up next: Valley at Old Lyme, Thursday, 4; Old Saybrook at Cromwell, Friday, 7.

Coginchaug 54, Haddam-Killingworth 49 (OT)

H-K (0-9)
Joe Giaccone 2 0-0 6, Declan Christopher 4 0-0 10, Adam Alonzo 0 0-0 0, Tyler Perry 0 0-0 0, Blake Kamoen 4 0-2 9, Andrew Crayton 3 0-0 6, Callen Powers 8 0-0 18, Cody Robinson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 0-2 49.

COGINCHAUG (1-5)
Sam Whittle 1 0-0 2, Francesco Marrotto 2 2-2 6, Connor Willett 5 5-7 15, Mekhi Watson 1 0-0 3, Colin Murphy 1 0-1 3, Jayson Penney 7 4-6 20, Adam Schaffer 1 0-0 3, Henry Bugai 1 0-0 2. Totals: 19 11-16 54.

Score By Quarters
H-K…………….18 12 13 2 4–49
Coginchaug…13  2  6 24 9–54

3-pointers: H-K–Powers 2, Giaccone 2, Christopher 2, Kamoen 1; Coginchaug–Penney 2, Watson 1, Schaffer 1, Murphy 1.
Of note: H-K led by as many as 22 points in the second before Coginchaug rallied behind its full-court press.
Up next: Coginchaug vs. Morgan, Friday, 7; H-K at Westbrook, Friday, 7.

East Hampton 68, Westbrook 43

WESTBROOK (3-5)
Bran Naccarato 6 0 14, Joey Caslin 8 4 21, Jesse Whitney 1 1 3, Sammy Freeman 2 0 5, Evan McIntyre 0 0 0, Ryan Engels 0 0 0. Totals: 17 5 43.

EAST HAMPTON (5-2)
Brady Lynch 3 3 10, Connor Michalowski 1 0 3, Drew DiStefano 4 5 17, Miller Koziel 4 0 8, Jye Lynch 6 0 12, Jack Blakey 3 0 6, Nate Ireland 6 0 12. Totals: 27 8 68.

Score By Quarters
Westbrook……..14   5  18  6–43
East Hampton…14 23 17 14–68

3-pointers: Westbrook–Naccarato 2, Caslin 1, Freeman 1; East Hampton–DiStefano 4, B. Lynch 1, Michalowski 1.
Up next: Westbrook vs. H-K, Friday, 7; East Hampton at Achievement First, Wednesday, 6:30.

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