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Norwich - Their paths to tonight's Eastern Connecticut Conference championship game couldn't have been more disparate.
Bacon Academy: barely perspired in Wednesday's semifinals.
Norwich Free Academy: had to walk barefoot over what felt like shards of glass.
But in the portion of the season all about survival, the Bobcats and Wildcats are in the same place today. They'll play for the league title tonight at NFA (7 p.m., theday.com).
Once Bacon (21-1), the state's fifth-ranked team, assumed a double-digit lead over East Lyme in the semifinals, the Vikings never saw single digits again. NFA (16-5), meanwhile, had to overcome a third-period deficit, needed a 3-pointer from freshman post Cebria Outlow and still hung on for survival in the final hectic moments over Ledyard.
NFA, however, is the defending tournament champion.
"I have concerns," NFA coach Bill Scarlata said. "Bacon is talented at every position. They have kids who can score at every position."
Among them: guard Carlee Putnam and forwards Taylor McLaughlin and Sarah Rogers. McLaughlin, a league player of the year candidate, parlayed a 37-point game last week vs. No. 2 Career of New Haven with an eight-assist clinic in Wednesday's semifinals.
"She used to be the point guard for us her first two years," Bacon coach Dave Shea said. "She has those skills. And she's very good playing underneath, too."
McLaughlin meets one of the league's other player of the year candidates: NFA's Alyssa Velles, a junior guard. Velles has been an assassin in this tournament. She scored 14 of NFA's 19 points in the fourth period of last season's championship game, ultimately rallying the Wildcats from a 14-point deficit.
She made the game-winning layup Wednesday over Ledyard with 1:16 remaining, giving her NFA's winning baskets in two of its last three ECC tournament games.
"We feel very good when (Velles) has the ball in her hands," Scarlata said.
Bacon won both games during the regular season: 48-29 in Colchester and 42-36 in Norwich.
"We'll have our work cut out for us," Scarlata said.
Shea, meanwhile, can win his 1,000th career game tonight, incorporating his coaching time with the Bacon girls' basketball, boys' basketball and baseball teams.