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Plainfield - New London coach Kerrianne Dugan was asked how her team, which was 2-18 just two seasons ago before her arrival, had the confidence to overcome a 13-point deficit in the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament semifinals Wednesday night, and for the second game in a row.
"That's something you just have inside of you or you don't," Dugan said. "It has to come from inside you. Jada (Lucas) is just fearless. Lexus (Childs-Harris) is just fearless.
"I just keep saying, 'I'm so proud of you guys.' I don't have any other words. I love being around them."
It was Childs-Harris, who wept after New London's senior night loss to Norwich Free Academy on Feb. 14, who led the third-seeded Whalers to a 63-59 victory over No. 2 Ledyard in the first game of a semifinal doubleheader at Plainfield High School.
Childs-Harris, a senior, had 22 points, 12 in the second quarter when the Whalers pulled within four points, leading New London to a rematch with No. 1 NFA in Friday night's championship game.
Lucas, meanwhile, a freshman, reprised her role from Monday night's quarterfinal win over East Lyme, providing a spark that carried the Whalers down the stretch. Ledyard held a 50-44 lead with 3 minutes, 49 seconds to play when Lucas hit a 3-point field goal.
She then scored at the front end of a fast break on a pass from Deanna McCarvell following a Ledyard turnover to make it 50-49 and the Whalers regained the lead on a basket inside by India Pagan.
Lucas finished with 14 points, McCarvell with 11 and Pagan 10 for the Whalers (19-3), who will be playing for their first ECC tournament title since 1998, meanwhile ending an 11-game winning streak for Ledyard (19-3). Ledyard split the ECC Large Division championship with NFA this season, while New London won the ECC Medium.
"I don't remember the second quarter, the second quarter feels so long ago," Childs-Harris said of leading the Whalers' rally. "… I'm just glad we pulled that one out. It was the same (start) as (Monday), but not as bad.
"I'm just happy to be able to play for a championship for the first time in my whole high school career."
Ari Fustini had 15 points and Olivia DelGrosso 13 for Ledyard, which saw its powerful frontcourt challenged over and over by the Whalers.
"They've been successful all year," Ledyard coach Adam Baber said of New London, which didn't meet the Colonels during the regular season. "They play tough. They play tough. … We thought we had it coming out of the timeout (with 3:49 to go). We talked about 'this is the most crucial minute of the game,' but we had some errors."
Ledyard led 15-2 in the first quarter, getting six points in that span from DelGrosso. Childs-Harris hit a free throw with 31.9 seconds to go in the quarter, however, and Tamia DeBarros-Cannon engineered a steal and got the ball to Lucas for a layup to pull within 15-7.
Childs-Harris started the second quarter with an outside shot and McCarvell scored on a fast break to make it 15-11. Childs-Harris also had a three-point play and a 3-pointer in the quarter, during which New London got as close as two. Ledyard had a 32-28 edge at halftime.
In the third quarter, Childs-Harris scored from outside, Charee Osborne got a basket inside and Childs-Harris hit a pair of free throws with 5:52 on the clock to give New London its first lead at 34-32. The teams traded leads six times after that, with New London taking the lead for good on a 3-pointer by McCarvell with 1:40 to play.
"I wouldn't trade it for anything else," Childs-Harris said, asked of going through the tough times of the New London program to get to the triumphant ones. "We just feel each other. We know each other by now. We're confident, but we're humble. We know anything can happen."