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For the Lancers, it's revenge and advance

Mar. 5—EAST LYME — This was the night where potential agony was lurking in lockstep with abject ecstasy. A win for Waterford High would make the two regular-season losses to East Lyme a duller ache. A loss and the Lancers would watch their blood rivals celebrate for the third time, certainly cause for an irritating, if not unbearable offseason.

"The first two times, I'm not sure we were ready for those atmospheres," sophomore guard Parker Spencer said. "But this one was for states. This one had to be different. We needed to play as a team."

And Spencer, the self-described "littlest player on the floor" produced the biggest stat sheet, scoring 25 points including the go-ahead 12-footer with 1:33 remaining. Waterford escaped enemy territory with a 60-56 win, the satisfaction of revenge and a trip to the CIAC Division III second round at No. 6 East Haven on Thursday night.

"The two losses were terrible, no doubt," Waterford senior Juan Morel said. "But the whole situation was different tonight. We didn't want our season to end early. And we played like it."

Morel, who finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds, tried his hand at the Steph Curry thing, raining three 3-point field goals, the last of which gave Waterford (11-12) a 54-51 lead midway through the fourth period.

"Ever since I went 4-for-5 (from 3-point range) at Stonington, I started to believe in myself," Morel said. "I kept thinking, 'what's the worst thing that could happen? That I miss?'"

The Lancers, who went 2-for-6 from the free throw line in the last 53.5 seconds, helped themselves by forcing a steal (from Quinn Speller) with 15.8 seconds left. Gabe Lombardi made a free throw before Spencer made another to make it 60-56.

"Juan Morel," Waterford coach Bill Bassett said, alluding to all his players with state tournament experience. "That's it. Last time he played (in 2022) was against Donovan Clingan. We came here the first time (in January) not having experienced the East Lyme thing and lost by a lot. Then we experienced the revenge thing in the second game (at home in February) and lost again. So now, what would we do differently in the moment?

"We kept telling the kids that we only have to win by one. If we win by one that might as well be a blowout. Winning is hard. East Lyme is good. And every game comes down to the last possession."

Jaylen Hannans led the Vikings (12-10) with 21 points and Oliver Hibbard added 12.

So now the Lancers advance in this bizarre quality-over-quantity season. In spite of a losing record, they have a division title, upset NFA to make the conference tournament semifinals and just ended their blood rival's season. Might there be more in the tank?

"Definitely," Spencer said. "We're giving this our all. One game at a time."

m.dimauro@theday.com