Pictured: Gianluca Albert looks for an opportunity to drive the lane Friday night against Old Saybrook. The Cromwell senior was deadly from the perimeter with six 3-pointers in the Panthers’ win. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

CROMWELL — Gianluca Albert wishes his junior season of Cromwell basketball was more than it was. There was an Achilles injury, plus COVID-19 tracing, and that crucial year in his development as a player amounted to just six games.

The 6-foot-1 guard looks back on the experience not with regret, but with added determination. He’s enjoying the moment, and what he looks like today is one of the best all-around players in the Shoreline Conference.

Albert had the hottest of hands for the Panthers on Friday night against a rejuvenated Old Saybrook program. He scored 20 points in the first half, 15 from 3-point range, and finished with a season-high 32 as Cromwell rolled to a 71-47 victory over the Rams at Jake Salafia Gymnasium.

“Last year was a tough year for me personally,” said Albert, who eclipsed his previous season high of 31 points in a December win over Canton. “It wasn’t disappointing as much as it was motivation for me to work hard over the summer and then do better this year. I feel like I’m achieving that goal so far and want to keep improving.”

Old Saybrook’s Aaron Tolve (35) gets a shot off underneath the rim as Cromwell’s Louis Friend (left) and Victor Payne defend in the second quarter. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

“I definitely feel really good right now, but there are some areas of my game I need to improve on,” Albert added. “And I feel if I keep working hard this season, I’ll be OK.”

Albert was 3 for 3 from 3-point land, Jake Salafia scored five points and Albert drove the baseline just before the first-quarter buzzer sounded as the Panthers (7-0) stormed to a 20-12 lead.

Cromwell opened the second quarter by scoring 11 unanswered points, with sophomore Victor Payne supplying two 3’s and a turnaround jumper during the onslaught.

After the Rams’ Aaron Tolve drove the lane for Old Saybrook’s first basket with 4:13 left in the quarter, Albert drilled another 3 to push the Panthers’ advantage back to 20.

Auggie Albert got the Rams (5-2) another bucket before Gianluca Albert swished a 3 with 2:56 to go, giving Cromwell its largest lead of the night at that point (39-16). The Panthers led 41-18 at halftime, and although the Rams responded with 24 points in the third quarter, they would get no closer than 18 the rest of the way.

This was the teams’ one-and-only meeting of the season, although they could see each other again in the Shoreline tournament.

“This was a big game for us,” said Cromwell coach John Pinone, whose team hosts Valley Regional on Saturday (5pm). “We’ve seen them play a couple of times and that’s a good team. We’re not 24 points better than them if we went out every time and played. We shot it really well. They had some shots they normally make, which changed the game. We made our shots and I think our height and length bothered them a little bit.

“If we can get better defensively, we could be a really good team. That’s where we need to improve, limiting teams to one shot. We do a good job of defending the first one, but we don’t body anyone. We’re still not physical enough. We don’t go get the ball when it’s loose.”

Payne (20 points) had a second straight game with at least 20, while Logan Mure and JJ Feehan added 7 each off Cromwell’s bench.

“Our offense was really good tonight,” said Payne. “We made our shots and really moved the ball around.”

Tolve led Old Saybrook with 15 points, while junior point guard Ryan Stratton added 14. Stratton averaged 22 points coming into the game.

“Cromwell was on fire tonight — shooting, driving, rebounding. They did so many things well,” Old Saybrook coach Chris Perras said. “Obviously the result isn’t what we wanted, but when you’re in this you have to take away the positives. We have such a young team and it’s so early in the season, so I’m happy in that sense.”

Ryan Stratton pushes the ball upcourt for Old Saybrook in the first half. Stratton finished with 14 points. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

While several Shoreline teams already have crossed into the second half of their 20-game schedules, Cromwell and Old Saybrook have played the fewest games of any in the league. Both programs were in COVID limbo for multiple weeks and feel like they’re still ramping up.

“One of the things I’ve told these guys, this is the best team that we’ll play all year,” Perras said. “They’re well-coached, they have such a good balance of size and speed, and obviously they have shot-making ability as you saw tonight. We’re going to use this as fuel to take us through the rest of the season. This game is still one of 20, just like the rest of them. So regardless of the result, it’s still worth only one game. And the goal is to have short-term memory and focus on the next one.”

One of the keys in this win, Pinone said, was holding the Rams to few second-chance points. In addition to knocking down shots, Cromwell created a lot of offense off rebounds and pushing it up the floor. In its win Tuesday against a physical Portland team, the Highlanders got second-chance points in clawing back from a double-digit deficit.

“When we were able to limit them to one shot and get the ball in transition, we got some really good looks, some open 3s and layups,” Pinone said. “We got easier shots, more open shots, tonight. We did a better job rebounding. Not a great job, but enough in that first half where we had momentum in getting it up the court. We went from one extreme (on Tuesday) to the other.”

OLD SAYBROOK (5-2)
Wes Nobile 2 3-3 7, Jake Butler 1 0-0 2, Riley Lawson 1 1-2 3, Ryan Stratton 5 2-2 14, Noah Grace 1 0-0 2, Auggie Albert 2 0-0 4, Bradley Kulmann 0 0-0 0, Aaron Tolve 6 1-1 15. Totals: 18 6-8 47.

CROMWELL (7-0)
Gianluca Albert 11 4-6 32, Louis Friend 0 0-0 0, Victor Payne 8 2-3 20, JJ Feehan 3 0-0 7, Logan Mure 2 1-2 7, Jake Salafia 2 0-0 5, Tyler Danielle 0 0-0 0. Totals: 26 7-11 71.

Score By Quarters
Old Saybrook…12  6  24  5–47
Cromwell……….20 21 19 11–71

3-pointers: Old Saybrook Stratton 2, Tolve 2; Cromwell–Albert 6, Payne 2, Mure 2, Feehan 1, Salafia 1.
Up next: Old Saybrook at Stonington, Saturday, 5:30; Cromwell vs. Valley Regional, Saturday, 5.

In other boys basketball games Friday:

Middletown 62, Manchester 49

Middletown’s Marshall Butler lays in two points during the Blue Dragons’ win over Manchester. (Photo by Tina Frazer)

MANCHESTER (7-3)
Thames Laquonne 0 0 0, Tray Butler 4 3 14, Damien Sanchez 6 0 16, Vinny Cavallo 0 0 0, Jared Lindstrom 2 1 5, Arlon Poteat 2 1 6, Jayden Cersasimo 1 0 3, Jermaine Robinson 2 0 4. Totals: 16 6-20 49.

MIDDLETOWN (5-3)
Chace Petgrave 2 0-0 4, Matt Steuerwald 3 0-2 6, Tim Vaughters 2 0-0 4, Omar Gutierrez 3 0-0 7, Elijah Wilborn 8 1-1 17, Quadir Murphy 1 0-0 2, Marshall Butler 2 0-0 4, Nasir McDaniel 6 0-0 12, Justice Freeman 0 0-0 0, Tee Jay Jackson 0 2-2 2, Nate King 0 0-0 0. Totals: 29 3-5 62.

Score By Quarters
Manchester…11   6  8 18–49
Middletown…20 10 17 15–62

3-pointers: Manchester–Sanchez 4, Butler 3, Poteat 1, Cersasimo 1; Middletown–Gutierrez 1.
Up next: Middletown vs. Hartford Public, Monday, 6:45.

Notre Dame-West Haven 75, Xavier 42

ND-WEST HAVEN (11-0)
Matt Piechota 1 0-0 3, Andre Nugent 1 1-2 4, Mekhi Conner 3 0-0 7, Tamari Gay 4 0-0 9, Andrew Lazzari 6 0-0 14, Jaden Jackson 2 0-0 4, Clinton Springer 1 0-0 2, Taje Jones 7 4-6 18, Jordan Elliot 4 2-2 12, Nick Preschel 1 0-0 2. Totals: 30 7-10 75.

XAVIER (4-6)
John Carrozzella 2 0-1 4, Ethan Bessoni 3 1-1 7, Colby Ciampi 4 1-2 9, Vik Vakati 1 0-0 3, Anthony Parker 6 3-3 16, Aidan Driscoll 1 1-2 3. Totals: 17 6-9 42.

Score By Quarters
ND-WH…..18 21 24 12–75
Xavier………0 12 13 17–42

3-pointers: ND–Lazzari 2, Elliott 2, Piechota 1, Conner 1, Nugent 1, Gay 1; Xavier–Parker 1, Vakati 1.
Up next: Xavier vs. Guilford, Tuesday, 7.

Portland 66, East Hampton 56

EAST HAMPTON (5-4)
Brady Lynch 7 0-5 15, Connor Michalowski 0 0-0 0, Drew DiStefano 5 2-2 13, Jacob Karrenberg 1 0-0 2, Jye Lynch 10 0-0 20, Jack Blakey 2 0-0 4, Jack Watkins 1 0 2. Totals: 26 2-7 56.

PORTLAND (6-5)
Joe Rusczyk 4 2-4 13, Harrison Collins 6 1-4 14, Evan Johnson 1 0-0 2, Jake Thompson 5 6-6 21, Eli Evison 5 4-5 16. Totals: 21 13-19 66.

Score By Quarters
East Hampton…..10 16 18 12–56
Portland……………17 20 12 17–66

3-pointers: East Hampton–DiStefano 1, B. Lynch 1; Portland–Thompson 5, Rusczyk 3, Evison 2, Collins 1.
Up next: Portland at H-K, Tuesday, 7; East Hampton at Old Saybrook, Tuesday, 7.

Hale-Ray 66, North Branford 48

HALE-RAY (8-2)
Drew Conroy 4 0 11, Loudon Chupas 10 12 33, Mamush Ciccarello 3 0 8, Miles Gagne 1 0 2, Avery Gugliotti 3 0 7, Braden Lankarge 2 1 5. Totals: 23 13 66.

NORTH BRANFORD (2-6)
Drew Girardi 6 2 17, Jack Meehan 0 4 4, Blake Pearson 3 2 10, John Onofrio 1 0 3, Matt Soldutti 1 4 6, Kyle Stegina 3 2 8. Totals: 14 14 48

Score By Quarters
Hale-Ray……..12 14 19 21–66
No. Branford…11  8  11 18-48

3-pointers: Hale-Ray–Conroy 3, Ciccarello 2, Chupas 1, Gugliotti 1; North Branford–Girardi 3, Pearson 2, Onofrio 1.
Up next: Hale-Ray vs. Grasso Tech, Monday, 6; North Branford

Morgan 76, Coginchaug 42

MORGAN (5-4)
Connor Duffy 5 0-0 10, Alex Fratamico 6 2-6 14, Drew Nye 1 0-0 2, Cooper Galdenzi 6 2-2 15, Tim McComiskey 1 0-0 3, Eddie Dwake 3 0-0 6, Cam Johnson 2 0-0 5, Ben McDonnell 2 0-0 6, Michael Fragola 2 0-0 4, Matt Reed 3 0-0 9, Jack Nye 1 0-0 2. Totals: 32 4-8 76.

COGINCHAUG (1-6)
Jayson Penney 8 3-4 20, Sam Whittle 2 2-2 7, Mekhi Watson 0 1-2 1, Connor Willett 3 0-0 6, Henry Bugai 1 0-0 2. Totals: 17 6-8 42.

Score By Quarters
Morgan………23 19 20 14–76
Coginchaug….8 10   8 16–42

3-pointers: Morgan–Reed 3, McDonnell 2, Johnson 1, Galdenzi 1, McComiskey 1; Coginchaug–Penney 1, Whittle 1.
Up next: Coginchaug at Classical Magnet, Saturday, 5:30; Morgan vs. North Branford, Saturday, 7.

Valley Regional 48, Old Lyme 32

VALLEY REGIONAL (5-5)
Zach Kirla 0 0 0, Di’Angelo Jean-Pierre 2 2 7, Andrew Yermenson 3 0 6, Kevin King 0 0 0, Sam Hutchinson 4 2 10, James Marsden 4 0 11, Saagar Patel 3 1 10, Brayden Shea 2 0 4. Totals: 18 5 48.

OLD LYME (4-5)
Nick Cox 1 0 2, John Almy 1 1 3, Jacob Ritchie 1 1 3, Frank Sablone 1 3 5, Sam Mullany 0 0 0, Caleb Monte 4 0 8, Calvin Monte 0 2 2, Mav Swaney 2 5 9, Reese Maguire 0 0 0. Totals: 10 12 32.

Score By Quarters
Valley Reg….9 13 15 11–48
Old Lyme…..11  4  9   8–32

3-pointers: Valley–Patel 3, Marsden 3, Jean-Pierre 1.
Of note: Jean-Pierre had 5 rebounds and 7 assists; Yermenson had 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals; and Hutchinson pulled down 10 rebounds, with 1 block and 3 steals.
Up next: Valley at Cromwell, Saturday, 5; Old Lyme vs. Cromwell, Tuesday, 7.

Westbrook 61, Haddam-Killingworth 46

H-K (0-10)
Joe Giaccone 1 0 3, Adam Alonzo 1 2 4, Ryan Erskine 2 0 4, Blake Kamoen 2 0 5, Andrew Crayton 0 0 0, Tate Callender 7 4 20, Callen Powers 5 0 10. Totals: 18 6 46.

WESTBROOK (4-5)
Ryan Engels 2 0 5, Bran Naccarato 6 0 12, Jesse Whitney 4 0 9, Joey Caslin 10 1 24, Sammy Freeman 3 0 6, Evan McIntyre 2 1 5. Totals: 27 2 61.

Score By Quarters
H-K………….13 15  6 12–46
Westbrook..14 16 19 12–61

3-pointers: H-K–Callender 2, Giaccone 1, Kamoen 1; Westbrook–Caslin 3, Engels 1, Whitney.
Up next: H-K vs. Portland, Tuesday, 7; Westbrook at Morgan, Tuesday, 7.

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