Pictured: Valley Regional’s Simon Partyka is guarded closely by Cromwell’s Gianluca Albert in Tuesday’s Shoreline Conference game in Deep River. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)

By Marc Silvestrini
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

DEEP RIVER — You don’t get to be 17-0 if you’re the type of team that begins to fold every time a worthy opponent threatens you with a fourth-quarter run.

Which is why Cromwell, which enjoyed an 18-point advantage with 1:11 to play in the third quarter, never blinked in the face of a furious, 15-3 Valley Regional spurt that shaved the Panthers’ lead to six with 3:22 to play in Tuesday night’s Shoreline Conference game.

Instead, the unbeaten Panthers got a pair of free throws by Victor Payne, a runner through the lane by Gianluca Albert, a layup by JJ Feehan and a pair of free throws by Louis Friend to outscore the Warriors 8-4 down the stretch, putting a ribbon on a 53-44 victory.

The win clinches the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Shoreline Conference tournament for the Panthers, who were playing their second game in as many nights, having topped Morgan 60-50 in Cromwell on Monday. Morgan beat Haddam-Killingworth on Tuesday to secure the 2 seed, leaving Friday’s Cromwell-Morgan matchup inconsequential in the standings.

“When a good team like Valley makes a run at you, you can either pack it in or fight your way through it, and tonight we played well enough in the final few minutes to win the game,” Cromwell coach John Pinone said. “But it was far from a solid effort for us tonight.

JJ Feehan puts up a shot in heavy traffic during the Panthers’ 53-44 win in Deep River. Feehan scored 11 points in the game. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)

“We have this tendency to let teams back into games,” he said. “We let up and stopped playing hard once we got the lead up to double figures. We stopped attacking the rim and started turning the ball over, and you just can’t do that.”

“Give Valley credit, their kids never quit and they kept coming after us,” Pinone added. “We played better once they cut the lead to six, but we still have a lot of things to work on.”

Valley’s James Marsden scored the first five points of the game to stake the Warriors (9-9)  to an early lead, but seven points by Payne and five from Albert enabled the Panthers to grab a 12-9 lead after the first eight minutes.

Seven more points from Albert and five from Feehan triggered a 15-6 Cromwell spurt over the first six minutes of the second quarter to stretch the Panther lead to a dozen, at 27-15. But a layup by Sam Hutchinson off an inbounds feed from Di’Angelo Jean-Pierre and a driving layup by Simon Partyka enabled the Warriors to climb back to within eight, at 27-19, at the half.

Five points apiece from Albert and Payne plus four from Feehan fueled a 16-6 Panther run that left the visitors sitting atop a 43-25 with just over a minute to play in the third quarter. But Brayden Shea rang up a traditional three-point play, D’Angelo hit the first of two free throws and Marsden put back Jean-Pierre’s missed second free throw as Valley scored the final six points of the quarter, slicing the Cromwell lead to 12 and setting up the rally that would see the Warriors climb to within six.

“We had our opportunities, but when you play a good team like that you can’t afford the amount of turnovers and missed layups we had tonight,” Valley coach Kevin Woods said.

“We play hard, we don’t back down from anybody,” he added. “I think we showed a ton of heart tonight, especially on defense, against a very big and very good Cromwell team.”

Albert led a trio of Panthers in double-figures with an 18-point effort while Payne added 16 and Feehan chipped in with 11. Marsden led the way for the Warriors with 14 points while Jean-Pierre added 13 and Hutchinson 8.

Though the Panthers are now just three games away from a perfect regular season, Pinone said that he never thinks or talks about going 20-0.

“The only wins that mean anything to me, the only wins that I really want, are those in March,” he said. “20-0 means nothing to us. Winning the Shoreline Conference tournament and the state tournament are the only things that matter.”

Feehan, a senior whom Pinone calls the most “steady” and “consistent” player on the team, agreed whole-heartedly with his coach.

“It’s cool to be undefeated, I guess,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the Shoreline Conference tournament and the state playoffs are really what it’s all about.”

Asked about the possibility of facing the Warriors for a third time in the league tournament, Feehan flashed a wide smile.

“They’re our rival,” he said. “We love playing teams like Valley and Morgan because you have to come out with a lot of energy and intensity in games like that. When we play those guys, you have to bring everything you’ve got.”

Cromwell concludes its regular season with games at Morgan on Friday, a non-league home game against East Windsor next Monday and a game at Westbrook on Wednesday.

Valley will finish with a non-league home game against St. Paul of Bristol on Thursday and a home game against East Hampton next Wednesday.

CROMWELL (17-0)
Gianluca Albert 5 6 18, Louis Friend 1 0 2, Victor Payne 6 2 16, JJ Feehan 5 0 11, Jake Salafia 2 0 4, Logan Mure 1 0 3, Luke Gagnon 1 0 3, Jake Salafia 0 0 0. Totals: 18 10 53.

VALLEY REGIONAL (9-9)
Di’Angelo Jean-Pierre 5 3 13, Simon Partyka 2 2 6, Andrew Yermenson 0 0 0, Sam Hutchinson 3 2 8, James Marsden 6 0 14, Kevin King 0 0 0, Brayden Shea 1 1 3. Totals: 17 8 44.

Score By Quarters
Cromwell…….12 15 16 10–53
Valley Reg…….9 10 12 13–44

3-pointers: Cromwell–Albert 2, Payne 2, Feehan 1, Gagnon 1, Mure 1; Valley–Marsden 2.

Elsewhere Tuesday:

Morgan 52, Haddam-Killingworth 37

MORGAN (12-6)
Drew Nye 1 3-4 5, Cooper Galdenzi 5 6-10 19, Alex Fratamico 6 1-3 13, Connor Duffy 6 3-5 15, Cam Johnson 0 0-2 0, Mike Fragola 0 0-1 0, Matt Reed 0 0-2 0. Totals: 18 13-27 52.

H-K (2-16)
Declan Christopher 1 0-0 2, Adam Alonzo 1 0-0 2, Lucas Kamoen 1 0-1 2, Blake Kamoen 3 5-10 12, Andrew Crayton 0 1-2 1, Tate Callender 4 1-2 9, Callen Powers 2 3-4 7, Tyler Perry 1 0-1 2. Totals: 13 10-20 37.

Score By Quarters
Morgan…12 15 18 7–52
H-K………..9   9 12 7–37

3-pointers: Morgan–Galdenzi 3; H-K–B. Kamoen 1.
Up next: Morgan vs. Cromwell, Friday, 7; H-K vs. Coginchaug, Wednesday, 7.

Old Lyme 61, Old Saybrook 55

OLD SAYBROOK (11-6)
Wes Nobile 1 0-0 2, Jake Butler 0 0-0 0, Riley Lawson 3 2-4 8, Ryan Stratton 7 0-0 17, Auggie Albert 2 0-0 4, Aaron Tolve 9 1-2 21, Brayden Cody 0 0-0 0, Bradley Kulmann 1 0-0 2. Totals: 23 3-6 55.

OLD LYME (8-11)
John Almy 3 0-0 8, Jacob Ritchie 5 6-8 18, Sam Mullaney 0 0-0 0, Caden Monte 8 2-3 18, Mav Swaney 4 0-0 8, Keese Maguire 2 1-2 5, Frank Sablone 1 2-4 4. Totals: 23 11-17 61.

Score By Quarters
Old Saybrook…12 12 12 19-55
Old Lyme………15 14 13 19–61

3-pointers: Old Saybrook–Tolve 3, Stratton 3; Old Lyme–Almy 2, Ritchie 2.
Of note: Monte had a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds; Ritchie had 5 assists and 4 rebounds; and Almy pulled down 9 boards.
Up next: Old Lyme vs. Portland, Feb. 22, 7; Old Saybrook vs. Coginchaug, Friday, 7.

Xavier 63, Guilford 49

XAVIER (11-7)
John Carrozzella 1 0-0 2, Ethan Bessoni 1 0-0 2, Colby Ciampi 3 4-4 10, Vik Vakati 6 2-2 17, Anthony Parker 8 2-4 20, Aidan Driscoll 4 1-2 10; Mark Schoonmaker 1 0-0 2. Totals: 24 9-12 63.

GUILFORD (12-7)
Cal Bucci 9 0-0 22, Theo Freeman 1 0-0 2, Kevin Goldberg 0 0-2 0, Justin Hess 3 0-1 8, Luke St. Marie 5 1-1 14, Riley Swan 1 0-0 3. Totals: 19 1-4 49.

Score By Quarters
Xavier…..24 11 11 17–63
Guilford..12   8 17 12–49

3-pointers: Xavier–Vakati 3, Parker 2, Driscoll 1; Guilford–Bucci 4, St. Marie 3, Hess 2, Swan 1.
Up next: Xavier vs. North Haven, Friday, 7.

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