By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
Eric Wilson connected on a short jumper with four seconds to play to boost Southington to a 66-64 road victory over Grand Valley in Northeastern Conference play Friday night.
“I was able to get into a one-on-one spot,” Wilson said of his first game-winning shot. “It was a little of both (a designed play and spur-of-the-moment reaction).
“Once I got the ball and went to the basket, I got a clear look and took the shot.”
In the ensuing pandemonium, GV (3-14, 2-8 in NAC) was able to fire the ball downcourt to Josh Kovats, but his long 3-point attempt was wide.
“This was a great atmosphere here tonight,” Grand Valley coach Luke Strohm said. “It was pee-wee night. It was great to see all those little kids in uniform, yelling and working along with the cheerleaders and fans as well. It was a good crowd and got very loud.
“You have to credit Southington for playing a heck of a good game. They hit some big shots when they had to have them. We just had a couple untimely turnovers late in the game, we missed a few too many free throws, and I am sure we missed quite a few bunnies as well.”
Two of those turnovers mentioned came in the last minute.
Southington opened the third period down, 33-31, but an 11-0 run put them up, 42-33. Jacob Zolna ignited it with a conventional three-point play and capped it with a driving layup.
Jake Vormelker completed his own three-point play with 4:50 left in the quarter to end the run for Grand Valley. After getting down by 10, at 49-39, a 7-0 run to open the fourth period gave the Mustangs (3-14, 2-8) a brief 54-53 lead.
Brendan Baugher tied it with a free throw with 5:30 left, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.
“Things have finally started to fall into place for our kids,” Southington coach Mike Karr said. “We lost two straight heartbreakers to Lordstown in the last week. We’ve battled youthful mistakes all season, losing a lot of close games, so it was nice to have one of the young guys come through tonight.
“It will be great for their confidence heading into the tournament and it would be nice if we can sneak at least one win down in Warrren.”
Zolna led the Wildcats with 16 points, Wilson had 14, freshman Tommy Hall had 11 to go with a team-high seven rebounds and Baugher added 10 points.
Kovats had his best game of the year with 24 points and eight rebounds.
“Coming down to the end, we didn’t want Zolna to beat us,” Strohm said. “After Wilson hit his shot, we got caught in a position to either call timeout or push the ball upcourt for a final shot. We had a couple guys ahead of the pack, but the shot just didn’t fall when we needed it most.
“Josh Kovats played a great game, just fantastic. He had so much extra spring to his step tonight. He drove to the basket, he rebounded, he looked for and found the open man handling the ball, it really gives us another go-to guy as the season winds down.”
Vormelker tallied 16 points and Kyle Orgovan added 10.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.