Pictured: Cromwell’s Shoreline boys basketball championship is the sixth for the program since 2009. (All Photos by Erica Augeri)

By Marc Silvestrini
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

MADISON – With 4:36 to play in the second quarter of the Shoreline Conference tournament championship game, Morgan’s Cooper Galdenzi stole an errant Cromwell pass in his own end of the floor, raced three-quarters the length of the court in the other direction and jammed home a resounding dunk to give Morgan a 22-12 lead over the Panthers.

Unfortunately for the Huskies and their fans at jam-packed Polson Middle School, Cromwell’s defense chose that exact moment to turn their intensity up a notch or three.

The Huskies would not score another basket until the final 3 seconds of the third quarter, a 12-minute and 33-second drought during which they were outscored 23-4 as Cromwell assumed a 35-24 lead.

From there, the Panthers went on to record a 55-39 win to secure their first Shoreline title since 2019 and sixth since 2009. The win also avenged the Panthers’ only loss of the season, a 38-35 defeat at the hands of the Huskies in Clinton on Feb. 18.

“This was a great win for us, I don’t think anyone was predicting a Shoreline Conference championship and a 22-1 –or whatever we are at this point — record at the beginning of the season,” Panthers coach John Pinone said.

“I’m proud of these kids, they were relentless tonight,” he added. “When we got down early they really picked it up defensively and played with great intensity. Defense is sometimes a contagious thing. Somebody makes a great play, a great stop, and suddenly everybody is playing harder and with greater emotion. Everybody wants to make a play. Everybody wants to make the next stop.”

Both Cromwell, which really does have a 22-1 record on the year, and the Huskies (15-8) will next play in the CIAC Division IV tournament. Morgan will host Woodland High of Beacon Falls on Monday in Clinton. Cromwell, the No. 1 seed, will enjoy a bye before hosting the winner of Monday’s Valley Regional-Nonnewaug game.

Shoreline Player of the Year Gianluca Albert led all scorers with 23 points, while Victor Payne added 12 and JJ Feehan put up 10. Alex Fratamico had 11 to pace the Huskies, while Galdenzi chipped with 10 and Drew Nye scored eight. Connor Duffy played a strong game underneath for Morgan with 6 points and 11 rebounds.

Payne scored the first hoop of the game to provide the Panthers with their only lead of the first half before Galdenzi scored a pair of buckets, Fratamico hit a 3-pointer and then fed Duffy, who scored on a short drive to give the Huskies a 9-2 lead with 3:26 to play in the opening quarter.

A bucket by Feehan and a 3-pointer by Payne enabled the Panthers to close the gap to two, at 9-7, before Nye’s 3-pointer and a pair of baskets from the paint by Duffy completed a 7-0 Morgan run, giving the Huskies a 16-7 lead entering the second quarter.

Albert scored on a baseline drive to open the second quarter, but a drive by Fratamico and a 10-footer by Nye enabled the Huskies to extend their lead to 11, their largest cushion of the night, at 20-9 with 6:07 left in the half.

Albert then buried a 3 which Galdenzi countered with his thunderous dunk, setting the stage for Cromwell’s tough, aggressive, man-to-man defense to take over the game. Meanwhile, Albert, with a pull-up jumper and a free throw, and Luke Gagnon, with a 3 from the top of the circle, provided the Panthers with enough offense to close to within six, at 24-18, at the half.

Cromwell rattled off 17 points in a row over the first 7:57 of the third quarter before Fratamico broke Morgan’s long scoring drought with a drive through the lane with 2.1 seconds remaining.

Earlier in the period, Albert’s 3-pointer off Feehan’s offensive rebound and feed had drawn the Panthers to within one at 24-23 a minute and a half into the quarter and Payne’s 15-footer had put Cromwell ahead for good some 40 seconds later.

Jacob Salafia then buried a long 3 from in front of the Cromwell bench and raucous student section to make it 28-24, a shot that Pinone called a “turning point” in the game.

“I think that three took a lot of the wind out of their sails,” he said.

Albert paced Cromwell’s third-quarter surge with nine points while Payne added four as the Panthers ended the period with a nine-point lead, 35-26.

Galdenzi hit a baseline jumper to get Morgan back to with seven early in the final quarter, but eight points by Albert, including two more 3-point bombs, and five by Feehan paced a 15-4 Panther run over the first three minutes of the fourth quarter to balloon their lead to 50-30, ending most of the suspense.

“All credit to Cromwell, they’re just a very good team,” Morgan coach Frank Rossi said. “Their defense just took us out of every bit of rhythm our offense had early in the game.

“That defense really turned the heat up tonight,” he added. “When you can’t score you just can’t beat a team as good as Cromwell.”

“We work on our defense in practice,” said Albert, who had 15 points in the second half. “Tonight, we really played well together, we really played great help defense.

“Winning the Shoreline is just an amazing feeling,” he added. “I don’t have the words to describe how great this feels.”

Both teams will now attempt to capture the Division IV state championship. No telling how amazing that might feel.

MORGAN (15-8)
Drew Nye 3 1-2 8, Cooper Galdenzi 5 0-0 10, Alex Fratamico 4 1-2 11, Connor Duffy 3 0-0 6, Cam Johnson 0 0-0 0, Eddie Dwake 1 2-2 4. Totals: 16 4-6 39.

CROMWELL (22-1)
Gianluca Albert 7 5-6 23, Louis Friend 0 0-0 0, Victor Payne 5 1-1 12, JJ Feehan 4 1-3 10, Jacob Salafia 1 2-2 5, Luke Gagnon 1 0-0 3, Sam Stergos 1 0-0 2. Totals: 19 9-12 55.

Score By Quarters
Morgan……16  8   2 13–39
Cromwell…..7 11 17 20–55

3-pointers: Morgan–Fratamico 2, Nye 1; Cromwell–Albert 4, Payne 1, Feehan 1, Salafia 1, Gagnon 1.

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