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New London has overcome back-to-back 13-point deficits to advance to the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament championship game. The Whalers also trailed 18-1 the last time they took on Norwich Free Academy.
"I think it's mostly nerves for my team, but that can't happen," New London senior Lexus-Childs Harris said. "We've got to come out strong. Hopefully, we've learned our lesson by now."
The third-seeded Whalers (19-3), looking for their first ECC girls' basketball tournament title since 1998, take on top-seeded and two-time defending champion NFA (20-2) in the championship game beginning at 7 tonight at Plainfield High School. The game will be livestreamed on theday.com.
NFA, ranked seventh in the New Haven Register state poll, defeated New London 48-36 in their only meeting of the regular season, Feb. 14, on what was senior night at New London. The Whalers started an alternate lineup in that game and NFA coach Bill Scarlata, who called New London "out of sorts" the first time, is expecting a much different look tonight.
New London topped No. 2 Ledyard in Wednesday night's semifinals, 63-59, getting 22 points from Childs-Harris and a late flurry from freshman guard Jada Lucas (14 points). That ended an 11-game winning streak for Ledyard, which shared the ECC Large Division title with NFA during the regular season.
NFA eliminated No. 4 St. Bernard 43-20 in the other semifinal, getting 20 points and eight rebounds from 6-foot junior center Olivia Lane.
"I think they're going to come out strong against us," NFA senior Alyssa Velles said of New London. "They're a physical team. They have a strong starting lineup, but I think we have a deeper bench than them. We have to play hard and outthink them.
"We have to work hard; we don't usually lose in the finals, so I'm sure we'll do whatever we can."
NFA was seeded fifth when it won the ECC title in 2012, upending second-seeded Waterford 39-36, getting 25 points from Velles, then a sophomore, 14 in the fourth quarter. Velles was named Most Valuable Player.
Last year, No. 3 NFA edged top-seeded Bacon Academy in the final, 41-39 in overtime, with Olivia Marks scoring 15 points to earn MVP honors. It was the 14th ECC championship for the Wildcats under Scarlata.
Tonight, it will be New London trying to play the spoiler.
"We're all looking forward to it," New London second-year coach Kerrianne Dugan said. "We can't start out sluggish. We've got to run our offense. There's no reason to play timid at all. They're girls, just like we are. They put one shoe on and they put the other shoe on."
One interesting matchup will be in the post, where New London - with a team effort from Childs-Harris, Charee Osborne and freshman India Pagan - held tough Wednesday despite facing a Ledyard frontcourt with two players over 6-3. NFA, meanwhile, got a dominating performance from Lane.
"She helped us a lot and she'll help us against New London," Velles said of Lane. "I think it'll be a good matchup and Cebria (Outlow, a sophomore) will be in there to help out."
Among Scarlata's worries is defending Childs-Harris, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the teams' last game.
"She's a tough matchup for us," Scarlata said. "… Hopefully, we can use a little bit of our quickness and match up inside."