New London girls clinch share of ECC Division I title

New London — New London hasn't allowed an opponent out of the 30s since Jan. 3, giving up an average of 28.9 points in an eight-game stretch since then.

So defense wasn't the worry Wednesday night in an Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I girls' basketball game against East Lyme.

The problem was that New London was thrown the equivalent of a changeup by the Vikings, who slowed the game to a crawl, making New London supply its own momentum. The unbeaten and second-ranked Whalers led just 33-24 after three quarters, suffering from somewhat of a shooting disorder.

New London finally found a way to score quickly, though: give the ball to Tai Pagan.

Pagan finished with 21 points, 15 in the fourth quarter, and added 20 rebounds as New London topped East Lyme 54-36 to remain unbeaten at 15-0 and clinch at least a share of the ECC Division I title. The Whalers can win their fifth straight divisional title outright with a victory Thursday over Fitch.

“We play a little quicker usually. Tonight we wanted to play the game in the high 40s, but we didn't get the job done on offense. We had the right game plan,” East Lyme coach Sal Fiorillo said. “New London is one of the best teams in the state of Connecticut. We're trying to get where they are. … We were trying to control the tempo of the game.”

“On offense we were rushing our shots,” New London coach Holly Misto said. “It's because we want to play at that fast pace. We weren't getting people the ball in the right situations. (In the fourth quarter), we did something differently against their 2-1-2 … we purposely got Tai the ball.”

Pagan started the fourth quarter with a three-point play, then later accounted for 10 straight Whalers points, finding the basket easily and often as the lead grew to 50-29. New London scored 12 straight points in increasing the lead from nine to 21.

Xaryia Melendez added 14 points and nine rebounds for New London, 6-0 in ECC Division I, two games ahead of Norwich Free Academy with two to play. Rosi Nicholson had 12 points, five assists and three steals and Spencer Roman added five assists.

Melendez, who has missed several games this season due to injuries, carried the burden early on offense, with 11 points in the first half, finding her mid-range jump shot and also leading the front of the Whalers fast break on several occasions despite her role as a post player.

“It's kind of back and forth (between us),” Melendez said of playing in the post with Pagan. “It's good to see. Our chemistry is great. I love it. … I feel good. I feel like I'm getting back to the basics.”

“As long as one of us is playing good,” Pagan said. “… The first quarter, coach talked to us and we had to step it up. They were finding me in the post.”

New London led 14-8 after one quarter and 26-15 at halftime, with Nicholson — a defensive stalwart — providing a highlight in the second quarter when she slid a considerable distance on her stomach just to get to a ball, flipping it from the floor up to teammate Desiree Johnson, who drove with it and was fouled.

New London gave up a season-high in a 69-55 victory at sixth-ranked East Haven back in early January, with no team cracking 35 since then.

Misto credited East Lyme's guards for having the ability to control the tempo without turning it over.

Point guard Megan Bauman, who generally walked the ball up the floor against the Whalers, led East Lyme with 16 points and Sophie Dubreuil had eight. The Vikings, who are without a senior on their roster, are 10-7 overall, 3-3 in the division.

“I'm not happy with the loss, but I'm happy with the effort. We've competed with them two times now,” Fiorillo said. “… They have so many athletes every time. Give them all the credit in the world. They're the best team in the ECC and we're all trying to catch 'em.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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