2013 Memories: Can't Beat Maria Weselyj's Buzzer-Beater For Mercy-Middletown

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Mercy Buzzer Beater

Of all the great sports moments of 2013, Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs will take a buzzer-beater by Maria Weselyj (13) that gave Mercy a state title. (Stan Godlewski, Special to the Courant / December 27, 2013)

She calls it the greatest gift she has received. Better than any birthday. Better than any Christmas present. Yet if Maria Weselyj could do it all over again, she would not be on the floor at Mohegan Sun Arena for the final 3.8 seconds of her state championship game.

To hit the greatest buzzer-beater in Connecticut high school basketball history is one matter. To watch the reaction of the Mercy fans is quite another.

"I've watched the video so many times," Weselyj said this week. "I just watch the crowd and how they react to the moment. A player has a different perception. If I could relive the whole thing, I don't want to shoot the shot. I want to be in the stands with them."

It is the collective joy, of her team, of her school community, more than her individual three-pointer to win the Class LL title game against Lauralton Hall that Weselyj carries so dearly. And as I rummaged through my sports memory for our state's greatest sports moment of 2013, it is the realization that it is the collective joy that separates a simple muscular act from the complex matters of the heart and soul.

How could there be anything more memorable than Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte leading Mariano Rivera off the mound for the final time at Yankee Stadium? How could there be anything more memorable than David Ortiz, after the Boston Marathon, taking the microphone, dropping that f-bomb and saying, "Nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong." Unless it was Papi hitting the grand slam that turned around the ALCS and left Torii Hunter upside down on the fence with his legs in the same victory sign that Fenway bullpen cop Steve Horgan made with his upraised arms.

Who was Connecticut's athlete of the year? For the men, it is has to be Mets pitcher Matt Harvey of Groton. For the women, it has to be Breanna Stewart for leading the UConn women to their eighth national title. And when it comes to horror, is there a greater one than Aaron Hernandez?

Still, my mind keeps drifting back to Weselyj and her shot. The shock, the joy, the heartache, all in an innocent heartbeat. If you saw it, well, you'll never forget it.

"My brother-in-law's up from North Carolina for Christmas and we were watching the last quarter," Mercy coach Tim Kohs said. "The end, it brings tears to your eyes. We had an open house a month ago at Mercy and the husband of our religion teacher Daria Fitzgerald walked in with a sweat shirt with 3.8 on it. I only know Bob Fitzgerald to say hi. He told me, 'I've been to NFL games, NCAA championships, and that game brought back my faith in sports.'"

"It's the rawness of high school. They're kids. They're not doing it for the money or the fame. They do it for each other. That moment really made me think about that."

When asked immediately afterward what she thought when she took the shot, Weselyj had a classic reply: "I thought it was going in."

She didn't want that to sound cocky, only confident. Weselyj is a shooter. She believes that every shot is going in. She admits that Kohs sometimes had to shoo her off the court after practice. She was overdoing it. So what did Weselyj do? She'd sneak off to Healthtrax of Glastonbury or Newington or to her driveway at home in Marlborough to put up more shots.

"Shooting is my outlet," Weselyj said. "It releases a lot of stress."

Tim Koh's brother, Mike, is the coach at Xavier, and they share Championship Productions instructional videos. Mike bought the one with former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew on last-second plays. Homer's son, Bryce, of course, hit the three-pointer at the buzzer in the 1998 NCAA Tournament to give Valpo a 70-69 victory over Ole Miss.

Through the years, Kohs' teams have practiced the Valpo play once or twice every week.

"But we've never used it when it meant anything," Kohs said. "The biggest thing is getting a long pass that can be caught, and it's hard to find a high school girl who can throw it anywhere near where Sheena Landy put it. Even Sheena couldn't do it five out of 10 times."

"Four of the five Lauralton Hall players gravitated toward the ball, so Maria and Jordyn Nappi were both open. We felt like we had a good plan. But to put it all together in that type of pressure and environment, you've got to be really lucky. If we ran it 100 times, you'd hit maybe two to five."

The play probably never happens if Kohs hadn't been in the officials' ears with 16.9 seconds left after a Landy turnover. If Lauralton Hall scores, he screamed, look at me for the immediate timeout. Michelle DeSantis, the daughter of former Quinnipiac coach Joe DeSantis, made a tremendous individual play to get to the hoop to put Lauralton up, 53-51 with 3.8 left.

"Lauralton was celebrating like they won. Our kids are dejected," Kohs said.

Wait a second. Timeout! Timeout! With the game on CPTV, video was available to correctly set the clock to the tenth of a second.

"Who knew seconds later, we're on the top of the world?" Kohs said.

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