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Waterford — Amid a celebratory locker room Wednesday night came some colder reality: This is nothing new. Norwich Free Academy took down the top seed in the same tournament of last season's semifinals, too, only to feel the thud of a dropped bowling ball in the championship game.
So now the Wildcats are back again, playing for the championship of the Eastern Connecticut Conference. They've dispatched top-seeded Ledyard. Now comes tonight's title game against Woodstock Academy at the Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse (6:45 p.m., theday.com).
"Hopefully the one thing we have going for us is a similar situation to last year," NFA coach Chris Guisti said. "We were really high after upsetting the No. 1 seed. Basically, the guys playing now were a big part of that game. They're hopefully a year older and a year wiser. Also, the urgency of being a senior plays into it."
Clearly, the Wildcats (17-6) have this figured out. They've won six straight.
"It's a symbiotic relationship when you are coaching a team," Guisti said. "You have to understand that you've got to believe in your players and they've got to believe in you. There were times on the bench (Wednesday) they vetoed some of my play calls. But they know if I really want them to run something, they will.
"They believe in me and I believe and them," Guisti said, "which is why we're winning games at the most important time of year."
That and senior Marcus Outlow, the Boston College-bound football player who has emerged as quite the basketball player. He had 24 points against Ledyard and sent Waterford home from the quarterfinals with a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Woodstock (18-4) lost to NFA two Fridays ago in the regular season finale. But there is no more seasoned team in the conference. The Centaurs are the defending state Class L champions. And they defeated Trinity Catholic, among others, during their run.
"It gives us so much experience," guard Chris Lowry said. "Two overtime games in the states last year … we're definitely into these pressure games."
Lowry noted that even though some key players were lost to graduation - Ian Converse and Sullivan Gardner among them - players such as Will Bourgeois and Trent Peters have honored their new responsibilities.
"I can't even say how huge they've been," Lowry said. "We can't wait for (tonight)."