It’s March. Let the basketball madness begin.
The Shoreline Conference boys basketball tournament gets under way today (Saturday, March 1) with four quarterfinal round games at the site of the higher seeds.
Midway through the season, this was shaping up as one of the most wide-open SLC tournaments in recent memory.
Then, things happened.
Westbrook, after a remarkable 17-0 start, lost 2 of their last 3. East Hampton, enjoying one of their best seasons in a long time, stumbled on Senior Night against rival Portland. And defending champion Valley Regional went just 3-3 down the stretch, suffering double-digit losses against Westbrook, Cromwell and East Hampton.
Emerging from all the rubble….the Cromwell Panthers.
Cromwell coach John Pinone has his senior-laden team peaking at the right time. The Panthers have won nine straight in impressive fashion, claiming the tourney’s No. 1 seed, and are the clear favorites to win their third league title since joining the Shoreline in 2006.
Today’s quarterfinal round matchups include: No. 8 Hyde (10-10) at No. 1 Cromwell (18-2); No. 5 Old Saybrook (12-8) at No. 4 Valley Regional (15-5); No. 7 Coginchaug (11-9) at No. 2 Westbrook (18-2); and No. 6 Old Lyme (10-10) at No. 3 East Hampton (17-3).
The semifinals will take place on Tuesday, March 4 at the site of the higher seeds. The championship game is on Friday, March 7 at 7 p.m. at Wilbur Cross High School.
Here’s a sneak preview of Saturday’s quarterfinal round games.
No. 8 Hyde (10-10) at No. l Cromwell (18-2), 7 p.m.
The Panthers are playing their best basketball of the season right now. They have a senior dominated lineup, led by forwards Matt Turkington, Mike McNally, Logan Lessard, and guards Josh Green, DeAndre Hamblin and Jake Regula. They’ve got size, speed and quickness and can beat teams from the inside or the outside.
Cromwell, which won the SLC tournament in 2009 and 2012, defeated Hyde, 62-42, at Salafia Gymnasium on Jan. 16.
New Haven’s Howling Wolves have always been the X factor in this tournament. They’ve won 3 of their last 4 games but their record is deceiving most years because of a brutally tough non-league schedule.
Hyde has made 7 league championship appearances since joining the Shoreline Conference in 1999 and they’ve raised three championship banners (2000, 2004, 2010) under coach Steve Jefferson.
No. 5 Old Saybrook (12-8) at No. 4 Valley Regional (15-5), 4 p.m.
Valley Regional, who defeated Old Lyme, 69-55, in last year’s final, will be seeking their fourth straight trip to the SLC championship game. The Warriors are also the defending Class M champs and they just might relish the underdog role in this tourney.
Valley will be led by seniors Jake Luster and Peter Barry, junior guard David Bradbury and junior forward Chris Jean-Pierre, who scored 21 points in the championship game a year ago.
The Warriors topped Old Saybrook twice during the regular season, edging the Rams, 52-50, in Old Saybrook on Dec. 22; and winning 63-51 in Deep River on Feb. 22.
Old Saybrook, which is seeking their first league title since 2008, will be led by senior guard Danny Murphy, junior guard Sam Henry, and sophomore center Owen Greene.
No. 7 Coginchaug (11-9) at No. 2 Westbrook (18-2), 7 p.m.
The senior-laden Knights are enjoying one of their best seasons ever under former Hand mentor Jeff Beeman, who has Westbrook eyeing their first Shoreline title.
Senior guard Sam Grigo, who scored his 1000th career point in Westbrook’s late season win over Valley Regional, is one of the state’s top 3-point shooters. The Knights are also led by senior guards Cade Muckel, Faruk Cecunjanin, and Jordan Bernard, and senior center Chris Dahl.
Westbrook edged Coginchaug, 39-36, in Durham on Dec. 30.
Coginchaug coach Todd Salva, who guided the Blue Devils to SLC championships in 1995 and 2007, has a young defense-oriented team that is capable of springing an upset in this tourney.
Junior forward Devin Rodrigue is a tough matchup in the low post, while guards Jack Granger Conor Doyle, and Cam Powers will also look to score.
No. 6 Old Lyme (10-10) at No. 3 East Hampton (17-3), 7 p.m.
East Hampton topped the Wildcats twice during the regular season, winning 73-54 at home on Jan. 4; and 69-55 at Old Lyme on Feb. 9.
Like Cromwell, the Bellringers can beat you in a variety of ways. Parker Strong’s club has experience in the backcourt with seniors Matt Booth, Matt Vasquenza and Marvin Gorgas, while senior Colin Parks, junior Jake Vickery and sophomore Cody Bernard form a terrific frontline.
East Hampton will be looking to rebound from a season-finale loss against Portland, which snapped the Bellringers 11-game winning streak.
A young Old Lyme team, which reached the finals a year ago, got off to a 2-6 start. But the Wildcats finished strong, closing the season with four straight wins behind the backcourt play of junior Jacob Ballanchino and sophomore Josh Turkowski.
Wildcats coach Kirk Kaczor led Old Lyme to SLC titles in 2002 and 2011.
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