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New London - There were eight minutes to play and New London was down a point, and so finally the Whalers had to make a decision, coach Kerrianne Dugan said.
"What are you going to do?" said Dugan. "Give up? Or dig down deep with everything they have? That's why (senior Lexus-Childs Harris) can't stop smiling. Because they earned it."
The fifth-seeded New London High School girls' basketball team will play in the Class M state semifinals on Friday night, bidding to reach their first state championship game in program history, by virtue of a 53-44 victory Monday night over No. 20 East Catholic in the quarterfinal round.
New London (22-4) will play top-seeded Holy Cross in the semifinals Friday at a site and time to be determined. Holy Cross defeated No. 9 Tolland on Monday, 60-51.
Not that Dugan wouldn't like her team to play at such an impressively dynamic level all the time. But with the game on the line against East Catholic, it was hard to argue with the Whalers' resolve.
Freshman India Pagan, who finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds, had a hand in just about every play in the fourth quarter, including steals, assists and blocked shots.
With New London up two with 5 minutes, 49 seconds remaining, Pagan scored on an offensive rebound, then caused a tie-up with another offensive rebound that resulted in possession for the Whalers and a quick basket for fellow freshman Jada Lucas, pushing the lead to six.
New London also turned to its closer, Childs-Harris, one of the only members of the starting lineup who remembers the team's 2-18 record from 2012, the year before Dugan's arrival. Childs-Harris hit a 3-pointer falling away, drove through a double-team and scored, handled the ball and finished with eight points in the fourth quarter.
"It's crazy," Childs-Harris said. "We went from 2-18 and not even thinking about making states to we're in the semifinals."
"It was just our intensity," Pagan said. "We wanted to win this. We want to go far. The coaches just keep pushing us telling us we can make it all the way."
Deanna McCarvell led New London with 15 points and Childs-Harris had 14. Charee Osborne added eight points and 15 rebounds.
McCarvell had 10 points in the first half, including two 3-pointers in the second quarter, and added a 3 to start the third quarter, pushing the Whalers' lead to 32-23.
East Catholic (19-9) outscored New London 11-1 for the remainder of the third quarter, however, to take a 34-33 lead - and could have extended the lead further, going 0-for-4 from the foul line.
It took New London 43 seconds of the fourth quarter to regain the lead for good, with a pair of free throws from Pagan that made it 35-34. A Childs-Harris 3-pointer from the right-hand corner made it a four-point lead.
East Catholic remained within three on an offensive rebound by Dominique Woods with about four minutes to go. But that was the Eagles' final field goal, as a steal by Pagan on East Catholic's next possession turned into a 7-1 New London run over the final 3:02.
Osborne hit a pair of free throws, Pagan scored on an assist from Childs-Harris and Jada Lucas, McCarvell and Childs-Harris each hit one foul shot.
"It took five, whoever was on the court at the time," Dugan said of the Whalers. "India was active in the fourth quarter, big time. Lexus brings us a sense of calm. They call her 'Mom.' She brings it home.
"In the fourth quarter we just played very well, with awesome energy. ... (East Catholic is) very tough, very scrappy, that's what concerned me, but we weren't going to give up."
Katie Mathieu had 20 points for East Catholic, including four 3-pointers, and Jillian Bray had 10.
Bray hit a 3 to pull the Eagles within three with 4:31 to play, just as her teammate, Woods, was fouled. Woods missed the front end of the one-and-one, though and Childs-Harris scored 10 seconds later for New London.
"It's kind of like it's do or die," Childs-Harris said of the fourth quarter. "And we know how bad we want it."