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Plainfield - As part of her Most Valuable Player performance, there was Norwich Free Academy's 6-foot center Olivia Lane, whom her teammates and coaches label as shy, calmly dribbling the ball up the court against New London's pressure in a pinch.
"She's just as involved as anyone I've ever seen," NFA teammate Maya Bell said of Lane. "She's come so far; it's so crazy. I love seeing her be the player we all knew she was."
"The last three or four games, she's been playing excellent," NFA coach Bill Scarlata said, asked if it was Lane's best game. "Hopefully the next game we play, she plays her best game and the game after that she plays her best game."
Lane, a junior, finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots as top-seeded NFA won its third straight Eastern Connecticut Conference girls' basketball tournament championship 53-45 over No. 3 New London in a game which was tied at halftime and never lost its intensity.
Alyssa Velles added 19 points for NFA and Bell seven steals to join Lane on the all-tournament team. New London's Lexus-Childs Harris and Jada Lucas were also chosen.
New London was bidding to win its first ECC title since 1998, having gone 2-18 in 2012 before the arrival of coach Kerrianne Dugan last season, and started with a 6-0 lead against the Wildcats, something of which they were in great need after coming back from 13-point deficits in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
The Whalers (19-4) stayed within one, in fact, into the fourth quarter, on a drive inside by India Pagan and, after going down seven points, came back within three with 3 minutes, 43 seconds remaining at 43-40.
Lane, however, was fouled getting a defensive rebound with 2:19 left and, with NFA in the double-bonus, hit both free throws to push the lead to five. Bell, who led a seven-point run by the Wildcats moments earlier with a steal and a layup, then picked off another New London pass and took it for a layup for a 47-40 lead with 1:53 to go.
"This is huge," Bell said. "This is the first time since Kastine (Evans, now at Kentucky) was here that we won the season and the championship. … It's a whole school rivalry. We knew New London was up against Ledyard (in the semifinals). But you can't doubt us."
NFA (21-2), which also got 12 points and seven rebounds from Cebria Outlow, shared the Large Division title with Ledyard. The Wildcats, ranked seventh in the state, defeated New London 48-36 in their only regular-season matchup.
NFA was the fifth seed in 2012 when it defeated Waterford to win the ECC tournament and was third last year when it knocked off top-seeded Bacon Academy in overtime.
"Last year we did it with mirrors," Scarlata said with a laugh, after adding his 15th tournament title in his tenure at NFA. "… I was worried early on (against New London), they came out hard and we wanted to match their intensity. I knew it was going to be like that, back and forth."
There were seven lead changes and five ties in the first half, with New London leading 10-9 after one quarter on a basket by Pagan (12 points) assisted by Childs-Harris, who drove and dished to her teammate.
New London's Charee Osborne then tied things at the half, 23-23, converting an offensive rebound with one second left.
In the third quarter, the Whalers, already trailing by four, were called for three crucial fouls in a span of 11 seconds, with Lucas picking up her fourth and Osborne being whistled for her third and fourth. Lane converted the latter foul by Osborne into a three-point play, too, for a 36-29 lead.
NFA finished 20-for-27 from the free throw line.
"That took us out of our game," New London's Dugan said of the foul calls. "But this isn't our ultimate goal. Of course we'd like to win this, but we have other things in our sights. The season's long from over."
"I was trying to concentrate on rebounding," NFA's Lane said of her MVP effort. "I knew India and Charee weren't going to let me off so easy. … I've been trying to work on being an all-around person. I can help my team more by being an all-around player."