Pictured: Cromwell’s Jake Salafia shadows Di’Angelo Jean-Pierre every step of the way on his drive to the basket in the second quarter. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

CROMWELL — Cromwell survived a postseason root canal on Thursday night. How else to characterize what a third meeting of the season against Shoreline Conference rival Valley Regional must have felt like?

This time, the teams were matched up in a do-or-die scenario in Round 2 of the CIAC Division IV tournament. The top-seeded Panthers made it a clean sweep of the Warriors, outscoring them 16-7 in the pivotal third quarter of a 54-43 victory at Jake Salafia Gymnasium.

Four Cromwell starters scored in double figures, led by JJ Feehan’s 14 points. Victor Payne’s one-handed jam, part of a 13-point performance by the sophomore, energized the home crowd and gave the Panthers their largest lead of the night (14 points) at the time.

“It was a good team win,” Feehan said.

Louis Friend and Gianluca Albert contributed 10 points apiece as Cromwell readies to host No. 8 seed Wamogo on Friday (7pm) in the quarterfinals. The Warriors defeated No. 9 Canton in their second-round game in Litchfield.

Thursday was a great night for Shoreline members Morgan and Portland.

In the Division IV bracket opposite Cromwell, No. 10 Morgan went on the road and knocked off No. 7 Somers 64-59. In Division V, No. 16 Portland upset No. 1 Terryville to reach the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, No. 4 Hale-Ray and No. 7 Old Saybrook, both in Division V, were ousted on their home floors.

Cromwell and Valley were tied at 15 and again at 17 late in the second quarter before consecutive 3-pointers by Jake Salafia (with a kiss off the glass) and Albert gave Cromwell a 23-17 cushion with 2:31 to go. Fur points from Sam Hutchinson, who led the 16th-seeded Warriors with 16 points, and a free throw by Di’Angelo Jean-Pierre in the final 1:38 kept Valley close at the break, 25-22.

But as Cromwell has done so often this season, the Panthers raised their performance level in the third quarter to decide the outcome.

After the teams traded baskets, Cromwell’s execution on the offensive end after making stops on the defensive end created some breathing room. Friend put back an offensive rebound. Feehan scored on an inbounds. Friend again rebounded a missed shot by Payne and dropped it in, and Payne scored off a feed from Friend with 2:29 left in the quarter.

Just like that, the Panthers had a 35-24 advantage with 2:18 left in the quarter.

“We started off kind of rocky, and coach told us (at halftime) we needed to turn up the intensity,” Feehan said. “The third quarter is our best quarter every time. That’s where we punched them and got their spirit down. From there, we just kept working.”

Valley got the lead back under 10 on a bucket by James Marsden before Feehan rolled to the basket with 11 seconds left, giving Cromwell a 41-29 lead with eight minutes to go.

And the Panthers weren’t done just yet. After Payne was fouled hard going to the rim and went sprawling to the floor, he bounced back two possessions later with a big-time dunk that pushed the lead to 13.

“That just gives us energy and gets the defense going, leads to another turnover and gets the crowd going,” said Feehan. “We love that. The crowd’s always on our side. it gets us on a roll.”

Valley kept the margin at 12 before a 3-pointer by Albert gave Cromwell its largest lead of the game, 48-33 with 4:55 left. The Warriors trailed by no less than 10 points the rest of the way.

It was the final game for Valley senior starters Partyka , Marsden and Saagar Patel and reserve Zach Kirla. Patel missed most of the season with hamstring and hand injuries. Valley coach Kevin Woods waxed on each.

“Every group is unique and special and this is a great group of young men,” Valley coach Kevin Woods said. “No matter what’s coming back it’s never going to be the same group of guys. “Unfortunately for Saagar his year got cut incredibly short. Zach Kirla, people don’t see what goes on behind the scenes, how hard he works. He doesn’t get a ton of playing time on the court, but he stays with it and there’s something to be said about that. You don’t see kids doing that anymore and that’s pretty special in its own right

“Guys like Simon, who absolutely love basketball all year. He’s one of the hardest workers. Physically he’s not the most imposing figure, but he’s mentally tough and physically tough for his size. And James Marsden, he’s a throwback three-sport athlete and what small-school athletics should be all about. He’s going to have a great college career in whatever sport he picks.

“It’s going to be really tough to say goodbye to these guys and the group in general.”

It’s less than a decade ago that Woods’ Valley teams regularly played for state championships, something Cromwell again is projected to do in the coming week. Woods, who pointed out that this was the first time a John Pinone-coached Cromwell team beat Valley at the state tournament level, said the Warriors needed to play a perfect game to beat the Panthers on Thursday.

“That’s been the key in all three of our contests this season — they totally outplayed us in the third quarter,” he said. “The great attributes of their team is their ability to come out in the second half and step up their defense. They’re very good basketball players, but in terms of mental toughness, they’re exceptional. And we’re a tough group, so to do that against us says a lot.”

VALLEY REGIONAL (11-12)
Di’Angelo Jean-Pierre 4 5-6 14, Simon Partyka 2 1-1 5, Andrew Yermenson 2 0-3 5, Sam Hutchinson 8 0-0 16, James Marsden 1 1-2 3. Totals: 17 7-12 43.

CROMWELL (23-1)
Gianluca Albert 4 0-1 10, Louis Friend 5 0-1 10, Victor Payne 4 5-5 13, JJ Feehan 6 0-0 14, Jake Salafia 3 0-1 7, Sam Stergos 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 5-8 54.

Score By Quarters
Valley Reg…10 12  7 14–43
Cromwell…..11 14 16 13–54

3-pointers: Valley–Yermenson 1, Jean-Pierre 1; Cromwell–Albert 2, Feehan 2, Salafia 1.

Division IV 2nd Round: No. 10 Morgan 64, No. 7 Somers 59

MORGAN (17-8)
Cooper Galdenzi 4 2-2 10, Jack Nye 1 0-2 3, Alex Fratamico 6 3-4 15, Eddie Dwake 1 0-0 2, Drew Nye 8 4-7 20, Connor Duffy 5 4-6 14. Totals: 25 13-21 64.

SOMERS (15-6)
John Zapolski 1 0-0 3, Thomas Lafayette 0 1-2 1, Troy Maia 1 0-0 2, Colby McCormick 1 0-0 2, Conner Marchi 1 0-0 3, Cody Palazzesi 16 13-17 48. Totals: 20 14-19 59.

Score By Quarters
Morgan…18 13 15 18–64
Somers…18   9   8 24–59

3-pointers: Morgan–J. Nye 1; Somers–Palazzesi 3, Zapolski 1, Marchi 1.

Division V 2nd Round: No. 16 Portland 57, No. 1 Terryville 52

The Highlanders scored an upset to remember as they overcame a 32-point night by the Kangaroos’ Dominick Dao with a big fourth quarter.

Terryville led by two through three quarters, but Portland played its best stretch of basketball over the final eight minutes.

“We battled them and kept it close, kept it tight,” Highlanders coach David Bradbury Jr. said. “We had a size advantage across the board and tried to utilize that as much as we could. They have a tremendous player in Dominick and he played every bit as good as he is.”

Dao still got his points, but Portland was better across the board.

“Our game plan was to keep it close late into the third quarter and early in the fourth and bring out double-team, full-court pressure on Dao and forced the other guys to be the heroes. We were able to really bother them defensively and be as good as we could be on the offensive end. We started hitting shots and showed great discpine and mental toughness from the free throw line.”

PORTLAND (14-10)
Joe Rusczyk 4 2-2 13, Harrison Collins 3 5-8 12, Jake Thompson 0 2-2 2, Eli Evison 7 4-5 21, Teddy Williams 3 0-0 9, Evan Johnson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 9-12 57.

TERRYVILLE (20-3)
Dominick Dao 9 13-16 32, Ryan O’Donnell 2 0-0 5, Trever Ferguson 1 0-0 3, Branden Driscoll 2 0-0 5, Charlie Rogers 1 0-0 3, Jake Rinkavage 1 2-2 4. Totals: 16 15-18 52.

Score By Quarters
Portland….14 11 14 18–57
Terryville…13 13 15 11–52

3-pointers: Portland–Rusczyk 3, Evison 3, Williams 3, Collins 1; Terryville–Dao 1, O’Donnell 1, Ferguson 1, Driscoll 1, Rogers 1.

Division II 2nd Round: No. 11 Middletown 71, No. 6 Prince Tech 52

MIDDLETOWN (17-7)
Chace Petgrave 4 0-0 10, Matt Steuerwald 3 1-2 9, Tim Vaughters 2 2-7 6, Elijah Wilborn 8 4-8 20, Marshall Butler 2 2-2 8, Nasir McDaniel 5 4-4 16, Dariyon Drake 1 0-0 2. Totals: 25 13-23 71.

PRINCE TECH (15-6)
Jordan Jackson 5 3 17, Atarian Salmon 2 2 6, Dajon Nelson 6 8 23, Troy Stewart 0 0 0, Jordan Iverson 1 1 3, Nate Baker 1 0 3. Totals: 15 14 52

Score By Quarters
Middletown…22 15 20 14–71
Prince Tech..14 11 13 14–52

3-pointers: Middletown–Petgrave 2, Steuerwald 2, Butler 2, McDaniel 2; Prince Tech–Jackson 4, Nelson 3, Baker 1.

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