Waterford's boys basketball team ended the third quarter of the Class M quarterfinals Monday down 43-36 to Valley Regional. During the break, head coach Greg Gwudz told his seniors this would be the last eight minutes they would ever play together if they didn’t make it happen.
“We all just said, play together as a team,” said senior point guard Geary McLeod, who led the Lancers with 17 points. “It could be the last time at home, and we don’t lose at home.”
Waterford stormed back, turning a seven-point deficit into a two-point lead. Valley had one last chance with 1.5 seconds left, but a turnaround jumper by Valley forward Chris Connor just rolled out, giving the Lancers a 52-50 win.
“That ball was in,” Gwudz said. “So we said to them, the fact that ball went out, means we have something special with this group. Because that ball was in.”
McLeod starred for the Lancers, as well as 6’9” center Nolan Long, who had 12 points and provided strong rebounding and defense. But at the end of the game, it was junior Jordan Hamler who made two huge shots to secure a Lancers victory.
Valley started out strong, hitting their jump shots and playing tough defense. They locked down Long in the first half, forcing McLeod to carry most of the offensive load.
“It was pressure we had never seen before,” McLeod said. “And they scouted us pretty good.”
After the first half, Valley led 28-27, and after the third quarter that lead stretched to seven. But in the fourth quarter, Gwudz told his players to play faster and turn defense into offense.
“They were a very good defensive team, and we knew that,” he said. “So the fourth quarter we knew we had to open up and get some transition buckets.”
Waterford followed Gwudz's advice, and chipped away at the lead. With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Long put in a layup to tie the game at 45.
In the next Lancer possession, Hamler freed himself behind the three-point line. The junior fired and nailed the three, giving Waterford a 48-45 lead.
“The three was big, it was big,” Hamler said. “That’s all I have to say. I just tried to throw up a shot… I just threw it up.”
Valley responded with a three of their own. But on the next possession, Long would power in a layup to give Waterford a 50-48 advantage.
Valley then tried to take the lead with a three, but missed. Long grabbed the rebound and launched it past half court to a streaking Hamler, who made a circus layup to give Waterford a four-point edge with 49 seconds left.
Valley would cut the lead to two with a jump shot with 9.9 seconds remaining. Then they fouled the Lancers, who missed both free throws. Valley secured the rebound on the second miss and called a timeout with 1.5 seconds left.
Valley took the ball out underneath Waterford’s hoop, knowing they needed to throw the ball past half court to have a chance. Valley connected on a three-quarter court pass to Connor at the free throw line, who spun and fired a jump shot that just rolled out.
“Crazy game,” McLeod said. “This was the hardest game of the season.”
Waterford will play again on Wednesday against sixth-seeded Notre Dame-Farfield. If they win, they will play for the Class M State Championship on Friday in the Mohegan Sun Arena.
"This was definitely a confidence booster," Hamler said.