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Waterford — The first semifinal matchup Wednesday night made certain there would be a new champion of the Eastern Connecticut Conference boys' basketball tournament, as six-time defending champ New London fell.
The second game made certain that the new king would not be top-seeded Ledyard High School, as the Colonels were upended by No. 4 Norwich Free Academy, owners of a six-game winning streak since last falling at the hands of Ledyard during the regular season.
"It was a winnable game. We didn't win. That's all," New London coach Craig Parker said. "… It's not a happy time."
No. 3 Woodstock Academy defeated No. 2 New London 62-55, preventing the Whalers from reaching the tournament final for the first time since 2003. NFA then followed with a 24-point performance by Marcus Outlow, who gave the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish with back-to-back 3-point field goals early in the third quarter, beating Ledyard 63-57.
It was the second straight semifinal loss for Ledyard as the top seed; meanwhile, it's the 10th championship game in the last 14 years for NFA, the first under coach Chris Guisti, in his inaugural season.
Woodstock (18-4) and NFA (17-6) will meet in the championship game beginning at 7 p.m. Friday night at Waterford High School. That game will be streamed live on theday.com.
"We knew if we kept in the game, within five or four, we could beat them," said Outlow, headed to Boston College on a football scholarship but certainly sure-handed in the clutch Wednesday, as well, hitting 6 of 8 free throws in the fourth quarter.
"Coach always tells us to step on the other team's neck. Ledyard is a good team, well-coached, but we knew once we got the lead, we could extend it more. Last time we played Ledyard, we let it go at the end (falling 58-52 on Feb. 11); we said, 'If we see this team again, we need to finish the game.
"I'm just thankful."
Six-foot-six senior Mike Ryan added 15 points for NFA and junior Jonathan Morrison added nine, coming in at guard because of foul trouble and thriving in what Guisti called "the most frenzied environment of the season."
Ledyard (18-4) held an eight-point lead late in the second quarter after a three-point play from Darnay Gray, but a basket by NFA's Desmond D'Elia-Miller and a steal by Outlow on which he pulled up for a 3-pointer put the Wildcats within 35-32 at the half.
Ledyard's Khary Childs started the second half with a pair of free throws, but that's just when Outlow hit two in a row from 3-point range, giving NFA a 38-37 lead.
The Wildcats pushed the lead to seven twice in the fourth quarter, in which they scored 12 of their 16 points on free throws, going 12-for-18.
DeAnte Bruton scored a game-high 20 points for Ledyard and Childs had 10.
"I'm not as upset with my players as I am about other things," Ledyard coach Dave Cornish told The Day. "I just think when they shoot 18 free throws in the fourth quarter and we shoot (19) for the whole game, I don't think that's fair to either team. We had a lead, we did what we wanted to do, but the game was taken away from you.
"I do want to say hats off to NFA. I don't want to take away from what they accomplished."
Earlier, New London (18-4) trailed by 13 points in the second quarter and was still down 12 at the start of the fourth quarter before pulling to within two in the final minutes against Woodstock. Woodstock went 0-for-7 from the free throw line to start the quarter, meanwhile the Whalers went on a 15-5 run capped by a De'Vonta Robinson spin move and basket to pull within 53-51.
New London was still within two with 48 seconds remaining when Collin Sawyer drove and hit a floater to make it 57-55. Down 58-55 after a free throw by Trent Peters, the Whalers missed the potential game-tying 3, however, and were forced to foul, ending their comeback bid.
Sawyer finished with 21 points for the Whalers and Josh Maynard had 10.
Peters scored 17 for Woodstock and Will Bourgeois 14, with all five starters hitting double figures.