NFA's season comes to an end with OT loss

Norwich Free Academy senior Alyssa Velles breaks down after the Wildcats lost to E.O. Smith in the second round of the CIAC Class LL girls' basketball state tournament Thursday night at Norwich. E.O. Smith won 55-51 in overtime.

Norwich — Cebria Outlow stood at the free throw line with one second remaining in regulation.

One.

And Outlow, a sophomore member of the Norwich Free Academy girls' basketball team, ever so calmly sank the pair of foul shots to force overtime with E.O. Smith in the second round of the Class LL state tournament Thursday night.

It was an enduring snapshot, but unfortunately for NFA, it wasn't the final one.

The seventh-seeded Wildcats, last week's Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament champion for the third straight season, fell to No. 10 E.O. Smith 55-51 in overtime, as E.O. Smith connected for 12 3-point field goals.

Panthers freshman McKenna Dale scored 24 points in the victory, hitting five 3-pointers, and sophomore Isa Peczuh hit three 3s, including the one with 28 seconds remaining in overtime which gave E.O. Smith the lead for good.

Outlow finished with 25 points and senior Alyssa Velles had 10 for NFA (22-3).

"Usually teams have one or two kids that can do that. You can play around one or two kids," NFA coach Bill Scarlata said of the Panthers' 3-point barrage. "They have five … anytime you get beat off the dribble, someone's open.

"They drive and they dish. Everything they do sucks you in so they can kick it out. I don't know if their percentage is usually as high as it was tonight (12-for-20, .600)."

NFA led 11-0 in the first two minutes, with Velles hitting a 3-pointer in the first five seconds, and maintained a 22-12 advantage after one quarter. E.O. Smith, however, hit five of their 3-pointers in the second quarter to get back in the game, carving the lead to 29-27 at halftime on a 3 by Dale with one second left.

In the final moments of regulation, E.O. Smith's Holly Worski hit a 3 to give her team a 45-43 lead at 1:47. NFA turned the ball over with 40 seconds left, but an E.O. Smith player missed the front end of a one-and-one and Outlow got the rebound.

NFA's Olivia Lane scored on an offensive rebound with 18 seconds left to tie the score 45-45, but E.O. Smith's Morgan Lawler answered with 8 seconds remaining on a layup for the two-point edge. That's when Outlow put her head down and drove the ball down the lane, drawing a foul with one second remaining.

She made the first, went to the huddle as E.O. Smith coach Mary Roickle called a timeout, then strode back to the line and hit the second free throw, much to the delight of the pro-NFA crowd which began chanting her name.

"It was a lot of pressure, you know," said Outlow who watched her older brother Marcus score 24 points in a win for the NFA boys in the ECC tournament semifinals the night before. "I was doing everything in my power to help us win, but sometimes you fall short. I was just happy for the opportunity.

"I was very inspired (by watching Marcus). Whenever he plays I always try my best to do something even better than him the next time."

Outlow shared a long embrace after the game with Velles, who will play next season at Division I Saint Peter's University in Jersey City, N.J., under former WNBA head coach Pat Coyle.

"When she hit the free throws I was sure we had it," Velles said. "… I had a really good career. I'm just glad I got to play for NFA. I just wish we could have gone further than the second round of states."

"Those are all things you build on for next year," Scarlata said of the free throws by Outlow. "Next time we're in that situation, the kids will have confidence. People tell me we're experienced, but we're still really young."

E.O. Smith (20-5), which lost to Weaver last week in the Central Connecticut Conference final, will next face No. 2 Lauralton Hall in Monday's quarterfinal round.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

Maya Bell of NFA rolls over with the basketball after battling with E.O. Smith's Holly Worski, right, for it in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's CIAC Class LL girls' basketball tournament second-round game at Norwich. E.O. Smith won 55-51 in overtime.
Maya Bell of NFA rolls over with the basketball after battling with E.O. Smith's Holly Worski, right, for it in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's CIAC Class LL girls' basketball tournament second-round game at Norwich. E.O. Smith won 55-51 in overtime.
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