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Waterford races away from Avon to win Division III state title

Avon’s Charley Reiss (11) moves toward the basket in Sunday’s Division III championship game at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Waterford beat the Falcons, 90-67. Waterford’s Walker Sutman (34) and Liam Spellman (10) play defense.

UNCASVILLE, Conn., March 18 – The Avon High boys basketball rode the wave of sharp shooting, early leads, tough defense and big plays into the CIAC Division III championship game.

But against No. 2 Waterford on Sunday morning, the Falcons couldn’t find their shot and the Lancers and their lightning quick guard Mickey Buscetto were too quick.

Runs of 10-0 and 16-2 in the second quarter allowed Waterford to pull away and win the Division III championship game with a 90-67 victory at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Buscetto, the 5-foot-10 senior guard, was tremendous with a game-high 27 points, 10 assists and a pair of steals.

With some great shooting, No. 9 Avon (16-10) built early leads in upset victories over No. 1 Guilford in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Enfield in the semifinals. But against Waterford, Avon never had the lead after the first quarter.

Buscetto and his Lancers began to run, taking advantage of 19 Falcon turnovers and the lack of rebounding. The Lancers scored 24 points off turnovers in the game and had 14 points in the paint after offensive rebounds.

Waterford guard Mikey Buscetto (5) had a game-high 27 points and 10 assists to lead Waterford to the Division III championship Sunday.

“Playing together wins you championships as you can see,” Buscetto said. “Everyone did their part and we won the championship.”

Jay Jay Brennan had 19 points for the Lancers while 6-foot-3 junior Liam Spellman added 12 points. Six-foot-four Walter Sutman had 11 points – primarily in the lane.

“He is the best player I have ever coached,” Waterford head coach Bill Bassett said. “He’s always willing to learn, always willing to get better. He makes the guys around him even better.”

Buscetto had 12 of his 27 points in the pivotal second quarter including a three-point bomb from near the top of the key with three seconds left in the second quarter. Jordan Williams had driven to the basket for two points with 12.7 seconds remaining to cut the Waterford lead to 13 points and give the Falcons a bit of momentum at halftime.

But Buscetto poured cold water on those thoughts with his nothing-but-net jumper and a 16-point Lancer lead at halftime.

“Mikey is a good scorer, a good scorer,” Avon coach Kris Pedra said. “What makes him great is his passing. He is a great passer and he was so unselfish with the basketball that it was tough to contain him.”

Avon’s Marek Cierniewski (15) battles with Waterford’s Liam Spellman (10) for a rebound in Sunday’s Division III championship at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Avon was playing in their first championship game since winning the Division II title in 2005 and grabbed an early lead. A layup from Brett Muni and a pair of foul shots from Williams gave the Falcons a 4-0 lead. Waterford tied it only to see Riley Welter drain a three-point shot from the corner for a 7-4 Falcon advantage.

Buscetto answered with a three-pointer of his own to tie the game at 7-7. A tip-in from Sutman gave Waterford their first lead but Charlie Reiss responded with a jumper thanks to a nice dish from Welter to tie the game at 9-9 with 2:25 left in the first quarter.

Waterford (25-2) began to flex their muscles. Avon missed three consecutive shots and the Lancers got the rebound each time. Sutman scored on a layup, Max Mazella had a layup in a possession when the Lancers pulled down two rebounds to keep it alive and Buscetto pulled down a rebound, went the length of the floor and scored for a 17-9 lead after one quarter.

After a turnover early in the second quarter, Buscetto had a layup for a 19-9 lead.

The Falcons tried to crawl back into the game. Reiss hit a three-pointer and Muni scored on a layup and a jumper to cut the lead to three, 19-16 with 6:20 remaining in the first half.

That’s as close as Avon would ever get. Waterford outscored Avon, 16-2 over the next four minutes and 21 seconds to seize command. Buscetto had seven points, a steal and an assist in the surge while Brennan had a pair of three-point shots.

“We noticed they weren’t getting back on defense and had slowed up a bit,” Buscetto said. “So, I told my big (guys) to run the floor. I will find you if they don’t get back. I think we scored 10 points straight in transition.”

Avon senior Jordan Williams scored a team-high 23 points and pulled down eight rebounds in Sunday’s loss to Waterford in the Division III championship game.

Since the Falcons had not played at the Mohegan Sun Arena before, Pedra suggested they take to the ball to the rim to get into the contest. “We were settling (for three-point shots) and then we got behind and trying to chase Mikey around is tough. He’s so quick and so good with the ball,” Pedra said.

Avon sank only two of their first 10 shots from three-point range and had just four offensive rebounds in the first half.

Williams finished with 23 points for the Falcons while Muni and Reiss scored 15 points each. Harris scored nine points and pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds.

It was a disappointing end to an outstanding tournament run that saw the Falcons get to the state championship game for the third time in school history.

“I can’t thank the senior class enough for bringing this program to the Mohegan Sun Arena,” Pedra said. “Kids all over the state dream about playing here and we got here. For the program, it gives us something to build on. If you work hard, if you play together, you can accomplish some great things.”

The Avon High boys basketball team finished second in Division III after losing to Waterford on Sunday.

NOTES: In the win over No. 1 Guilford, Avon had a 10-point lead after one quarter and still led the Indians by 10 after three quarters. In the win over Enfield, Avon led by eight in the third quarter before the Raiders took the lead. But Avon remained poised and won the game with a shot at the buzzer by Reiss. … The Falcons were presented their runnerup plaque by former Avon High coach Richard Hadden (1974-77). … Waterford has won 15 straight games. … It was the first state title for the Lancers since winning the Class M crown in 2012. “I’m so happy for those boys,” Bassett said. “They have something now for the rest of their live that will bind them together as a team.” … The 90 points was the most that the Falcons have given up in a CIAC tournament game, erasing the previous record of 89 scored by New Britain’s St. Thomas Aquinas in a 1997 Class M quarterfinal loss. … Avon is now 2-1 in state title games having won in 2005 and 1988.

More photos from Sunday’s championship game (More will be uploaded shortly)

Waterford 90, Avon 67
At Uncasville, Conn.
Avon (67) Brent Muni 6-9 3-4 15, Charlie Reiss 6-12 1-3 15, Jordan Williams 7-18 6-9 23, Riley Welter 2-9 0-0 5, Connor Harris 2-7 5-6 13, Ryan Bartkiewicz 0-0 0-0 0, Jack Hall 0-3 0-0 0, Marek Cierniewski 0-0 0-0 0, Tyler LeBrun 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas Howard 0-0 0-0 0, Ryan McGuire 0-0 0-0 0, Romi Eldah 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-58, 15-22, 67
Waterford (90) Erin Pinch 1-5 0-0 2, Mikey Buscetto 10-19 4-5 27, Liam Spellman 5-12 0-0 12, Max Mazzella 2-4 0-0 4, Walter Sutman 4-9 3-6 11, Tyler Peretz 1-1 0-0 2, Omar Rahman 2-3 0-0 4, Payton Sutman 0-0 0-0 0, Trevor Yeomans 4-5 1-2 9, Jay Jay Brennan 5-9 6-9 19, Dylan Eckhart 0-1 0-0 0, Ryan O’Connell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-68, 14-22, 90
Avon (16-10)                                  9  17  19  22  — 67
Waterford (25-2)                        17  25  28  20  — 90
Three-point goals: Avon 6-23 (Reiss 2-3, Williams 3-11, Welter 1-3, Harris 0-3, Hall 0-3); Waterford 8-16 (Pinch 0-1, Buscetto 3-5, Spellman 2-6, Brennan 3-4).
Rebounds: Avon 39 (Harris 13, Williams 8), Waterford 36 (Spellman 8, Sutman 8); Assists: Avon 9 (Muni 3), Waterford 19 (Buscetto 10); Turnovers: Avon 19 (Welter 5), Waterford 7 (Buscetto 5); Steals: Avon 5, Waterford 10 (Brennan 3)

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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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