By Jimmy Zanor
@ShoreLineSports on Twitter
WALLINGFORD >> There are clips of Cromwell boys basketball coach John Pinone in ESPN Films’ “30 for 30: Requiem For The Big East.”
There’s Pinone during his college playing days at Villanova, mixing it up underneath the basket against the likes of Syracuse, Georgetown, Boston College and St. John’s.
There’s Pinone, a three-time First Team All-Big East selection and an All-American, trading elbows with Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin.
“Requiem For The Big East” is an amazing film, especially if you were there for those early 1980s Big East backyard brawls.
And the same ingredients were in place for Cromwell-Valley Regional IV Tuesday night in the Class S state semifinals at Sheehan High School. The bitter league rivals. The loyal, rabid fan bases. Championship teams with a defense first mentality. Meeting for the seventh time in the past two years.
After Tuesday’s thriller, it’s safe to say this high school basketball rivalry, forged when Cromwell joined the SLC in 2006, has reached epic new heights.
Valley Regional won 61-57 in a game that will be remembered for a long, long time.
The Panthers, who will get to raise their third SLC championship banner inside the Salafia Gymnasium next season, finished 23-3.
They’re a heck of a club. A senior-laden team led by Mike McNally, Josh Green, Jake Regula, Matt Turkington, DeAndre Hamblin and Logan Lessard that is good enough to play at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
They just couldn’t survive two missed free throws and a pair of turnovers in the game’s final minute.
Not too many teams can.
For Valley Regional (20-6), it was another amazing state tourney victory for head coach Kevin Woods and his staff.
The defending Class M state champs went just 3-3 down the stretch, losing to Westbrook, Cromwell and East Hampton.They also lost to Cromwell in the SLC tournament semifinals and getting to the Sun this year seemed like too tall a task.
To everyone but Chris Jean-Pierre, Jake Luster, Peter Barry, David Bradbury, Hunter Linfesty and the rest of the 2014 Valley Regional Warriors.
Valley rebounded with tourney wins against Bolton, Windsor Locks and top-seeded East Windsor before derailing Cromwell on Tuesday.
After the Warriors and their Big Three of Mitch King, Taylor Rioux and Kyle Connor captured the school’s first basketball state title with a victory over Classical Magnet in the 2011 Class S finals, assistant coach Jeff Bernardi stood in the bowels of the Mohegan Sun Arena and said, “This isn’t it for us. We’re going to keep coming back here.”
Boy, was Bernardi right.
Warriors Nation will be making its third Hoosiers-like trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena in four years this weekend. The Sun has officially been dubbed…Valley East.
On Sunday, only Sacred Heart-Waterbury stands in the way of a third state basketball title for the Deep River school.
An accomplishment that just might warrant its very own “30 for 30” ESPN film.