Panthers’ run ended

By Danny Atkinson, TheSportsDept.com

WALLINGFORD-With 44 seconds remaining and the score tied in Tuesday night’s Class S boys basketball semifinal game at Sheehan High School, Cromwell appeared to have a solid shot at beating Valley Regional and earning a berth in the championship game. After rallying from a seven-point deficit, the Panthers had the ball and the opportunity to run and score on one or two final offensive sets. But in the blink of an eye, this opportunity evaporated.

Cromwell committed two turnovers and failed to control the glass in these final agonizing seconds, helping Valley to score the game’s final four points and earn a 61-57 victory in what was a rugged battle. With the loss, the Panthers ended their season with a record of 23-3, with two of the losses coming to Valley. The Warriors (19-5) will advance to the S championship for the third consecutive season, and will face Sacred Heart.

Cromwell had opportunities in the final minute, but two turnovers and a couple of missed free throws never allowed the Panthers a chance to move in front.

 “We missed two free throws and we had those two unforced turnovers in the last 44 seconds”, Cromwell coach John Pinone said. “Heck, we didn’t get off a shot. We didn’t give ourselves a chance to win. We wanted to get it down to 14 or 15 seconds, then take another timeout to set it up for the final play. This feels like one that got away. Having those turnovers be unforced ones was especially hard to handle.”

Forward Matt Turkington led Cromwell with 16 points. Forward Mike McNally and  Jauchswann Green scored 16 and 12 points, respectively.

Early on, the Panthers struggled to make shots and counter Valley’s ball screens on offense, and trailed 14-6 with two minutes remaining in the first quarter.  Cromwell managed to narrow the deficit by playing strong on-ball defense and getting to the line. They tied the game at 23 with just under one minute remaining in the first half.

Cromwell continued to struggle with its shooting in the third, and fell behind by as much as eight despite continuing to play solid defense. With six and half minutes remaining in the contest, it trailed 45-38. Just when the game looked to be slipping away, the Panthers offense got hot.

Their run began at the 6:12 mark when McNally drained a three-pointer to make the score 45-41. This was quickly followed by a steal and a three-point play by Green, cutting it to 45-44. After the Warriors responded, Turkington hit a three with just under five minutes to go to make it 48-47. Jake Regula eventually gave Cromwell the lead on a three-point play with just over four minutes remaining.

The Panthers took their largest lead at 55-52 on a three pointer by Turkington with three minutes left, but Valley regained a 57-55 lead when Bradbury  hit his fifth three of the game. Cromwell’s final basket would come with 1:25 remaining on a Turkington tip-in off his own miss.

“We looked like we were tentative at times,” Pinone said. “We missed so many easy shots for the first three quarters. You can’t miss shots like we did, but as bad as we were offensively, we got the lead. We just let it get away.”

“We played the best defense we’ve played all year,” Valley coach Kevin Woods said. “Cromwell is a heck of a team that’s capable of beating almost any team, so for us to do what we did defensively tonight is incredible.”

After such a tough season-ending loss, Pinone made sure that to send his senior-laden team a powerful message.

“I told them how proud I was of them and that they had a terrific season and terrific careers. We really raised the bar for our program this season with our level of play. And I told them that tomorrow is a brand new day and that life doesn’t stop for anyone. We have to move forward.”

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