Defense carries Wildcats past the Saints
Plainfield - The talk, as usual, centered around Norwich Free Academy's defense.
"When you do get open, you're only open for two steps," St. Bernard girls' basketball coach Mike Nystrom said Wednesday, following his team's loss to NFA in the semifinals of the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament.
"Maya (Bell) was all over the place tonight," NFA coach Bill Scarlata said. "She's the key and then everyone else picks it up. I think we've improved greatly (since the beginning of the year). (Freshman) Hailey Conley has improved light years from when she first came to us."
If that wasn't enough, NFA, the top-seeded team in the tournament and in pursuit of its third straight title, also got 20 points and eight rebounds from 6-foot junior center Olivia Lane, topping fourth-seeded St. Bernard 43-20 in the second game of a semifinal doubleheader at Plainfield High School.
NFA (20-2), ranked seventh in the state, will meet No. 3 New London in the championship game at 7 p.m. Friday, also at Plainfield. That game is a rematch of a 48-36 NFA win on senior night at New London and one which Scarlata expects to be much closer this time around.
New London, the ECC Medium champion, has already knocked off a pair of ECC Large Division teams in East Lyme and Ledyard in the tournament, trailing by 13 in both instances.
Meanwhile, Bell and Cebria Outlow added 10 points each and Outlow had seven rebounds for NFA, which led St. Bernard 18-10 at halftime and 32-17 after three quarters.
Nystrom, whose team defeated Waterford in the quarterfinals, said the Saints were simply overmatched both by NFA's overall speed and by Lane. St. Bernard (18-5) got a team-high nine points from Caitlyn Dittman.
"They're quick. They're athletic," Nystrom said. "We don't have that one person that can blow by people. Maya, she's quick and she can blow by people. It's nobody's fault; they're just not a good matchup for us."
Scarlata said Lane is coming into her own, having rebounded "exceptionally well" this season. Nystrom said it looks as if no one's boxing out Lane, when in fact she moves well to get around her opponents while waiting for a rebound.
"Luckily, I have her for another year," Scarlata said.
"I was pleased about the game," Lane said. "Coach was happy with what I was doing, just being aggressive around the basket. … I'm excited about playing New London in the finals; there's going to be so much intensity."
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