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Ledyard - New London coach Kerrianne Dugan, who called Monday night's game intense, kept using one word in almost all her sentences afterward. Finally.
As in: "Finally it clicked, thank goodness."
And: "We finally started to play defense."
Third-seeded New London, down 13 points at the end of the first quarter and still trailing by 10 as the fourth quarter began, rallied for a 50-46 victory over No. 6 East Lyme in the quarterfinals of the Eastern Connecticut Conference girls' basketball tournament.
Freshman guard Jada Lucas, who led the way with 16 points, was the main reason for New London's reversal of fortune.
She scored nine points in the fourth quarter, including stepping into the passing lane for a steal and a layup that put the Whalers (18-3) up for good at 44-42. With New London later up two at 48-46, Lucas also hit both ends of a one-and-one with 12.7 seconds remaining to seal the win.
New London next plays No. 2 Ledyard (19-2) in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Plainfield High School. Ledyard topped No. 7 Bacon Academy 50-33 in the second quarterfinal Monday.
No. 1 Norwich Free Academy will meet No. 4 St. Bernard in Wednesday's other semifinal, scheduled for 7:30 at Plainfield.
"If you don't see her play, you don't know how good she is," Dugan said of Lucas, one of two freshmen in New London's starting lineup. "You don't see her name every time because we have five people averaging around the same.
"But she puts pressure on the other guards. I don't know how she does it. She didn't play like a freshman."
Charee Osborne added 13 points and Lexus Childs-Harris had seven for New London.
Theresa Durkee and Jenna Schumacher scored 11 points each for East Lyme, which led 10-0 on a fast break by Durkee and continually beat New London down the floor early for layups.
East Lyme (13-8) led 27-20 at the half and 37-27 after three quarters, getting an offensive rebound and putback by Maggy Powers to lead by 12 late in the third quarter and making a New London comeback at that point seem improbable.
But whereas New London got off to a poor start in a 12-point loss to NFA on Feb. 14, the Whalers didn't let the deficit dictate the outcome this time.
"It was just time to step up," Lucas said.
Osborne scored to start the fourth quarter and Deanna McCarvell and Lucas followed with 3-pointers to pull within 37-35. McCarvell hit another 3 to give the Whalers the lead a few moments later at 42-40 and they never trailed again.
New London outscored East Lyme 23-9 in the fourth quarter.
Ledyard, meanwhile, was led by 19 points from Hannah Hutchins and 12 from Olivia DelGrosso.
Like New London, Ledyard received a first-round bye in the tournament. That meant when the start was postponed from Thursday to Saturday, teams with byes had a few extra days to wait.
Ledyard coach Adam Baber, whose team led 37-16 at halftime, was happy to have his team work on a few basics. Namely defense.
"Play defense. That's it," Baber said. "That was our plan. At times we did that tonight. We rotated a few defenses in the first quarter, probably two or three in the first quarter. We did what we were supposed to do, played hard and established a good defensive rhythm."
"Especially with all the snow days recently," Hutchins said. "This got us back into it, back into the loop."
New London, the ECC Medium Division champion, and Ledyard, co-champ in the ECC Large, did not meet during the regular season.
No. 1 NFA 47, No. 9 Montville 33
No. 4 St. Bernard 57, No. 5 Waterford 45
No. 2 Ledyard 50, No. 7 Bacon Academy 33
No. 3 New London 50, No. 6 East Lyme 46
No. 2 Ledyard (19-2) vs. No. 3 New London (18-3), 6 p.m.
No. 1 NFA (19-2) vs. No. 4 St. Bernard (18-4), 7:30 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.