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Avon set to face No. 2 Waterford Sunday morning in Division III title game

Connor Harris, center, Brett Muni (10) and Charlie Reiss (11) celebrate with the Taft Cup after the Falcons beat Farmington for the second time in the final game of the regular season.

AVON, March 16 – There was never any lack of doubt or confidence on the Avon High boys basketball team. They knew they would have the opportunity to do something special this season.

With five seniors in the starting lineup, the Falcons were sure they could make things happen this winter.

The team has been taking their lumps the past two seasons as Avon transitioned into the Central Connecticut Conference after more than 30 years in the North Central Connecticut Conference – winning just five games in 2016 and six games in 2017.

However on Sunday, the ninth-seeded Falcons (16-9) will be on center court at the Mohegan Sun Arena facing No. 2 Waterford (24-2) for the opportunity to win a state championship. The Division III title game will tip off Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m.

Avon is in the championship game for just the third time in school history and the first time since 2005 when they beat Fairfield Ludlowe for the Division III championship under current freshman basketball coach Tim Curtis. Falcon head coach Kris Pedra played on that championship team.

Seniors Jordan Williams, Riley Welter, Connor Harris, Charlie Reiss and Brett Muni start each game. They’ve been played big minutes since they were sophomores.

“I’m so happy I believed in this group,” Pedra said. “I saw it when they were sophomores. I saw the potential in them. To see them grow and fulfill that potential is just great.”

Senior Jordan Williams (23) had a career-high 33 points in the second round win over Brookfield.

It hasn’t been an easy road here to the Mohegan Sun. The Central Connecticut Conference is no easy league to get through and the Falcons played some big schools this season – Southington, Glastonbury, Simsbury and Manchester along with Division I qualifier Northwest Catholic. Avon was 12-8 and 6-4 in CCC West Patriot Division.

“The competition is amazing,” Williams said. “You get a lot of experience against some good teams.”

Close games that this team would have lost a year ago turned into victories. “The key is trusting your teammate on the floor,” Muni said.

Added Harris, “It’s not always going to go your way (on the floor). You can’t get flustered. You need to stick with each other and you can’t start blaming each other.”

The team also made a commitment to defense. Even if the offense wasn’t flowing, they would make their stand on the defensive end of the floor.

Avon had little trouble with Wolcott and Brookfield in their first two Division III tournament victories but were pushed hard by No. 1 Guilford in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Enfield in the semifinals. One of the keys for Avon was outstanding shooting from the floor enabled the Falcons to jump out to early leads and withstand late charges.

The Falcons had a 10-point lead going into the third quarter of their 56-51 win over Guilford. In the semifinals, Enfield erased a nine-point lead and Jadon Archer scored a game-high 43 points. But Avon drained nine 3-point shots to build a lead and stay in the game. The Falcons won, 76-75, on a Charley Reiss basket off the glass as time expired.

Reiss had a career-high 23 points. Freshman Brett Hall had 10 points – his first double-digit scoring performance since January – while Muni added 10. Williams had 12 points and Welter added 11.  Harris scored eight points.

“We’re playing really well right now,” Pedra said. “Their composure stands out and they’re calm. They stay together and find ways to win.”

Avon High seniors, from left, Charley Reiss, Brett Muni, Riley Welter, Noah Hay, Connor Harris and Jordan Williams attended the CIAC luncheon for boys basketball finalists on Thursday in Rocky Hill.

Avon is facing a Waterford team that has won 14 consecutive games including a 77-68 victory over Prince Tech-Hartford in the semifinals. Waterford beat Southington and Farmington in earlier tournament games.

“We have a dynamic point guard in Mikey Buscetto,” Waterford coach Bill Bassett said. “He’s exceptional at moving the ball. He shoots the ball and makes great decisions. We have a team with great passing ability, really a team-first dynamic where they always look for the open guy.”

Buscetto has committed to play at Southern New Hampshire next year. The Lancers play in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division II but were moved up to the ECC’s Division I postseason tournament and won it, beating New London in the semifinals and East Lyme in the title game.

“Our team has almost released themselves,” Bassett said. “It’s not about the individual anymore. It’s about the team. Everyone is doing their job and filling their role.”

This is Waterford’s third championship game appearance and first since they won the Class M title in 2012.

Division III championship
At a Glance
Teams: No. 9 Avon (16-9) vs. No. 2 Waterford (24-2)
Location: Mohegan Sun Arena
Time: Sunday, March 18, 10:30 a.m.
Last finals appearance: Avon – 2005; Waterford – 2012
Of note: Avon and Waterford each played Glastonbury, Farmington and Southington this year. Waterford beat the Tomahawks by 28 points while Avon split with Glastonbury, winning one game by 11 points and losing the second by 12. Waterford beat Farmington in the second round of the tournament, 62-47 while Avon swept the Indians in a pair of low-scoring affairs. Waterford beat Southington in the quarterfinals, 80-70 while Avon beat the Blue Knights, 59-47. … It is the first CIAC tournament game between the two programs.

Previous title game appearances
Avon (2-0)
2005 Division III: Avon 55, Fairfield Ludlowe 48
1988 Class S: Avon 64, Windsor Locks 44

Waterford (1-1)
2012 Class M: Waterford 71, Watertown 67
2007 Class M: Weston 59, Waterford 35

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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