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Stratford — Conventional wisdom among people who follow local high school basketball:
Two offseason transfers from New London to Ledyard likely makes the Colonels the best team east of the Connecticut river this season.
This, however, from Craig Parker, the New London coach, whose team overcame an 11-point deficit in the fourth period Friday night to defeat Harding of Bridgeport, 74-70:
"People in our area can think what they want," Parker said, not long after the Whalers advanced to the finals of the Stratford Christmas Tournament. "We're New London. We're tradition."
That was merely the appetizer.
"We have the kids in our school that want to play for New London. I don't chase after kids," he said. "The kids who want to be here and be part of the tradition and be part of one of the top programs in Connecticut, those are the kids we want here."
Among them are Collin Sawyer and Seth Lake, who led Friday's rally. Sawyer scored nine of his team-high 17 points in the final 3:02, helping New London (2-0) hand Harding (2-1) its first defeat.
Harding led 50-39 early in the fourth period. Sawyer made three free throws with 2:24 left to pull the Whalers even at 63-63. And Lake's 3-pointer with 47 seconds left snapped a 67-67 tie and gave New London the lead for good.
Sawyer missed much of the first half after taking a shot to the eye in the first quarter.
"I was worried for a while because I couldn't see anything out of that eye," Sawyer said. "But it got better."
And so did his teammates. The Whalers were down double digits two different times in the game.
"This game tells me a lot about our team," Parker said. "Down 11 in the fourth quarter to a quality team, we hung together and played scrappy. And Collin, in my opinion, is right up there with the top players in our area. People should start realizing that."
De'Vonta Robinson had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Whalers, while Nick Barner had 12, Lake had nine and Josh Maynard and Landon Peabody scored eight apiece. New London plays Stratford in the final today at 7 p.m.
T.J. Killings led Harding with 22 points.
"This game helps us in the big picture. We don't see a lot of full court pressure in our conference," Parker said. "We're New London and we want to play up and play teams with a lot of tradition. A team like Harding can prepare us for the state tournament."