Published March 10. 2013 4:00AM Updated March 10. 2013 9:57AM
Ledyard - The game turned one final time in the last 30 seconds Saturday afternoon when Ledyard, which had just pulled within two points, was whistled for an intentional foul.
Instead of Valley Regional shooting two free throws and then giving the Colonels the ball back, the Warriors shot two and got the ball back.
And then, less than nine seconds later, it happened again.
"If I was on the other end, I would have been asking for an intentional foul too," said Ledyard boys' basketball coach Dave Cornish, whose team was looking for a second straight semifinal berth in the Class M state tournament.
With that, the season came to end for the fourth-seeded Colonels, who fell to No. 5 Valley 57-51, with Valley traipsing mercilessly to the free throw line as time expired.
But on an afternoon in which every space inside Ledyard's Standish Gymnasium was full - of fans who lined up down the hallway waiting to get in and with a steady hum of chants and cheers which at times rendered the players unable to hear - Cornish knew that wasn't the only thing that cost his team.
"We were 11-for-20 from the free throw line. You're not going to win many ballgames like that. And we wanted to share the ball. We had six assists total," Cornish said. "We gave up seven 3-pointers, most of them uncontested.
"... We've always told the kids, 'You may be the better team, but if another team is playing better ... these things happen.'"
Ledyard, which scored the first two baskets of the game in the exact fashion that Cornish hoped, moving the ball up and down the floor to get baskets from Thomas Whipple and Khary Childs, then settled into a halfcourt offense against Valley's signature man-to-man defense.
Valley led 25-19 at halftime and stretched the lead to double figures (31-21) on back-to-back 3-pointers by Jon Luster and Christopher Jean-Pierre as the third quarter began.
Ledyard took the lead on a putback by Darnay Gray and a floater from Whipple which made it 38-37, but Valley's Sean Cunningham hit a 3-pointer to give the Warriors the lead headed into the final eight minutes.
"We knew it was going to be a little physical and there's a question of how physical our team has been," Valley coach Kevin Woods said. "We knew we had to be physically tough and mentally tough. We knew how mentally tough we were, with six seniors who have been in this situation."
The game was tied three times in the fourth quarter. Ledyard (21-4) took its last lead at 44-42 on a bank shot by Childs. But with the game tied at 44, Ledyard went 1-for-5 from the free throw line in the next two minutes.
By the time Cunningham hit a 3-pointer for Valley, then beat everyone down the floor on a long inbounds pass for a layup, Valley led 51-45 and time was growing short.
Whipple hit one free throw to pull within five at the 1:38 mark and Phyllip Thomas hit the 3-pointer from the right corner with 36.5 seconds remaining to make it 51-49. Thomas, however, was called for the intentional foul on Jake Luster just seconds later.
He hit one of two free throws and when Valley was given the ball back Ledyard's John Rainey was called for another intentional foul on Jon Luster.
"It was a little bit of pressure," said Whipple, a Ledyard senior who finished with a team-best 17 points. "The crowd, the refs ... we should have come closer. Last year we got to the semifinals, so we thought this year would be a little easier. We're upset we didn't make it as far."
"We thought we had a shot at competing for the Class M championship," Cornish said.
Gray and Thomas each had 10 points for Ledyard, which won the Eastern Connecticut Conference Medium Division title this year, the Colonels' first league title since 1986.
Jon Luster had 18 points and Cunningham 13 for Valley, which will play No. 9 Bloomfield in Tuesday's semis.