Pictured: Drew Conroy of Hale-Ray beats Cromwell’s Louis Friend for two in the second half of Friday’s Shoreline Conference game. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

MOODUS — The most intriguing matchup of the Shoreline Conference boys basketball season went Cromwell’s way on Friday night.

On the road against 10-win Hale-Ray, the undefeated Panthers held the Noises to just eight fourth-quarter points and they came through at the free-throw line once again, hitting 5 of 6 in the final 46 seconds to come away with a 60-52 victory.

Current Shoreline Standings

  • Cromwell…………8-0
  • Morgan……………8-2
  • East Hampton….7-3
  • Old Saybrook…..7-3
  • Hale-Ray………….7-3
  • Portland…………..6-5
  • Valley Regional…6-5
  • Westbrook………..4-6
  • Old Lyme………….4-7
  • Coginchaug………2-7
  • North Branford….1-9
  • Haddam-Kill…….0-10
  • Note: Top 8 qualify for conference tournament

Hale-Ray (10-3) was hard-pressed to make a comeback because Loudon Chupas, the Shoreline’s leading scorer, hit the bench after picking up his fifth foul with 3:27 remaining. The senior managed just 13 points — eight below his season average — as the collective efforts of the Panthers’ defense made it awfully difficult for the Noises throughout to score from 15 feet in.

Hale-Ray coach Corey Zdunczyk pleads with the official after Loudon Chupas (22) picked up his fifth foul with 3:27 left. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

JJ Feehan produced a season-high 19 points and team leading scorer Gianluca Albert, who had 17, was 4 of 4 from the line in the closing seconds to propel Cromwell to its 11th victory.

But it was never easy.

“I thought we defended well in the fourth quarter, especially in the last four minutes, and limited them to one shot,” Cromwell coach John Pinone said. “They’re a very good team, they’re tough to defend and they spread you out. They’ve got guys who can shoot the three. They’re just tough covers.”

“This was our third game this week,” Pinone added, “and I’m very proud of our conditioning down the stretch. We didn’t fade. We actually got a little stronger as the game got on. I always say that’s worth three or four wins for us a year because our conditioning is so good down the stretch.”

Cromwell had a 49-44 lead barely a minute into the quarter, but it evaporated when Chupas sank two free throws and Mamush Ciccarello, who led all scorers with 24 points, buried one of his four triples to tie it at 49.

JJ Feehan, who scored a team-high 19 points, was a huge factor at both ends of the court for Cromwell. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

But just as quickly as the Panthers lost the lead, they snatched it back. Feehan hit a 3-pointer, his final bucket of the night, and despite Victor Payne missing both free throws following Chupas’ fourth foul, Jake Salafia buried another 3 from the corner to make it a 55-49 game with 4:30 to go.

“That gave us a little breathing room up six,” Pinone said.

The complexion of the game changed in the ensuing 60 seconds.

A missed 3 by Payne led to a tie-up and Cromwell maintaining possession. The Panthers missed another shot and then a putback, which was rebounded by Chupas. He took off down the left side and went strong to the basket but was called for a charge.

“Probably the first offensive foul we’ve taken all season,” Pinone said.

With its lead at six, Cromwell milked the clock, and despite missing a couple of chances to extend the lead, the Panthers added one point to it with the second of two Salafia free throws with 46.1 seconds left.

Mamush Ciccarello (3), one of the top 3-point threats in the Shoreline, led the Noises with 24 points. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

Hale-Ray turned a fast possession into a Ciccarello 3-pointer from right in front of the Sound Pound fan section to cut its deficit to four. The combination of Hale-Ray being unable to make a defensive stop and the Panthers putting the ball in Albert’s hands in the final 38 seconds prevented Hale-Ray from getting it to a one-possession game. Albert didn’t miss in his four attempts at the line.

“You want to create a turnover. They’re going to make free throws, so you give it a few seconds to create a turnover in a four-point game to make something happen,” Noises coach Corey Zdunczyk said. “Without Loudon, it certainly hurt. But I’m happy with our guys for the way they responded when he went out. They kept battling. It was a game right to the end. We were right there with them.”

The game was tied at 17 after one quarter. Cromwell led 32-31 at the half on the strength of 14 points from Feehan.

“He made shots and got into a groove. He was in a mismatch so we got him the ball earlier,” Pinone said. “On the flip side he’s a tough cover for the other team too because he’s a legit 6-foot-3, 6-4. He prefers to play facing the basket, but when he has these mismatches we’ve got to give him the ball in the low post. He’s a good passer and you have to take advantage of his height against smaller defenders.”

CROMWELL (11-0)
Gianluca Albert 5 7-7 17, Louis Friend 1 2-2 4, Victor Payne 3 2-5 8, JJ Feehan 7 2-2 19, Jake Salafia 2 1-2 7, Luke Gagnon 2 0-0 5. Totals: 20 14-18 60.

HALE-RAY (10-3)
Drew Conroy 3 0-0 7, Loudon Chupas 5 0-2 13, Mamush Ciccarello 10 0-0 24, Miles Gagne 1 0-0 3, Nate Matetich 2 1-2 5, Braden Lankrage 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 1-4 52.

Score By Quarters
Cromwell….17 15 14 14–60
Hale-Ray….17 14 11   8–52

3-pointers: Cromwell–Feehan 3, Salafia 2, Gagnon 1; Hale-Ray–Ciccarello 4, Chupas 3, Conroy 1, Gagne 1.
Up next: Cromwell vs. H-K, Tuesday, 7; Hale-Ray vs. Old Saybrook, Tuesday, 7.

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