Pictured: Morgan players including Alex Fratamico, Cooper Galdenzi (2) and Connor Duffy (with ball) were in good spirits after Friday’s 38-35 win over previously unbeaten Cromwell. (Photo by Erica Augeri)

By Paul Augeri

CLINTON — Was Cromwell vs. Morgan a sneak preview of the Shoreline Conference boys basketball tournament championship game?

The other six tournament qualifiers will certainly have a say in that before the March 4 final, but Morgan’s 38-35 victory over the Panthers on Friday night — the teams’ second encounter in five days — made several points.

  1. Cromwell is not unbeatable, although nothing changes the fact that John Pinone’s team is the top seed in the tournament and remains the favorite. This was the Panthers’ first loss after starting 17-0.
  2. Morgan is locked in as the No. 2 seed, so these two could very well mix it up again two weeks from now. The Huskies have come a long way since January, having won 9 of their last 11.
  3. Friday’s matchup on Morgan’s home court was an excellent Round 2 showcase to the Panthers’ 60-50 win on Monday, when they hit all the right notes in a strong fourth quarter.
  4. Morgan is the defending Shoreline champion. Cromwell, or another foe, will have to take it away.

After Morgan students stormed the court in raucous celebration at the final horn, Huskies coach Frank Rossi came up with “relief” and “redemption” to describe the triumph.

Cromwell’s Victor Payne comes up with one of his two steals late in the fourth quarter against Morgan. (Photo by Erica Augeri)

“Our schedule the last week and a half of the season hasn’t been easy,” he said. “We took a couple of losses (Joel Barlow out of conference, and Cromwell, between wins over Portland, East Hampton and Valley Regional). I think losing up (in Cromwell), we learned a lot from that loss. Obviously we knocked off the No. 1 team tonight. One of the things we talked about coming into the game was redemption. We thought that outside of a three-minute span, we played toe to toe with them up at their place.

“This is just affirmation that we belong in the conversation as one of the top two teams in the league.”

That the game was played in the 30s underscored the defensive tussle that it was.

The Huskies (13-6) took a seven-point lead, their biggest of the night, when senior forward Alex Fratamico drove the baseline for the layup with 2:12 remaining.

Cromwell cut it to 36-31 when Gianluca Albert was fouled underneath by Connor Duffy and hit both free throws with 1:54 left.

The Panthers came up with two sensational defensive plays by Victor Payne in the next two possessions, both leading to Cromwell scores.

Payne forced a five-second violation on Drew, and off that turnover a missed layup by Payne was put back by JJ Feehan with 1:21 remaining.

Off the inbounds by Morgan, Payne stole the ball from Nye near halfcourt and caused a tie-up, with possession going to the Panthers. Cromwell worked the ball inside, with Louis Friend finding Feehan underneath for the hoop, making it a 36-35 game with 38.2 seconds left.

“We knew we were in the driver’s eat and we could control,” Rossi said, “and Drew Nye has a short memory and he’s a competitor. He’s not going to let those couple of turnovers faze him.”

After a Cromwell timeout, the Panthers committed two quick fouls to create a one-and-one situation for Fratamico, who missed the front end. But Cooper Galdenzi rebounded the miss, passed to Fratamico and was re-fed for the lay-in and a three-point lead with 17 seconds left.

After inbounding, Pinone called timeout with 9 seconds remaining to set up Albert for a potential tying 3-pointer. His attempt was challenged and fell short, but Feehan was there to rebound it. He got the ball back out to Salafia on the wing, but he misfired from behind the arc just before the final horn.

Fratamico led the Huskies with 15 points and Galdenzi also was in double figures with 10. Albert scored a game-high 17 points for Cromwell, with Feehan adding 10.

Rossi was surprised the game was played in the 30s, but not surprised that defense would decide the outcome.

“They’re such a defensive team and they execute so well,” he said, “and we tried to pinpoint the mistakes we made defensively (on Monday) and focus on those things the last two days at practice. We executed the defensive game plan we wanted to. We’ve been trying all season long to find that defensive rhythm. To do it against a team of Cromwell’s caliber was important for our confidence.”

Gianluca Albert 3 8-10 17, Victor Payne 2 0-0 4, JJ Feehan 4 2-2 10, Jake Salafia 2 0-0 4, Louis Friend 0 0-0 0, Luke Gagnon 0 0-0 0, Sam Stergos 0 0-0 0. Totals: 11 10-12 35.

MORGAN (13-6)
Drew Nye 2 1-2 5, Cooper Galdenzi 4 2-3 10, Tim McComiskey 0 0-0 0, Alex Fratamico 6 2-3 15, Connor Duffy 2 2-2 6, Cam Johnson 1 0-0 2. Totals: 15 7-10 38.

Score By Quarters
Cromwell…14 7  5  9–35
Morgan……12 8 11 7–38

3-pointers: Cromwell–Albert 3; Morgan–Fratamico 1.
Up next: Morgan vs. Daniel Hand, Monday, 5; Cromwell vs. East Windsor, Monday, 6.

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