One Whale of a season
Mohegan — It was a week in which New London had yet to play basketball. They attended a luncheon at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington, talked to members of the media, delivered speeches and, mainly, practiced.
"It went by really slowly," sophomore Charee Osborne said. "Sitting in classes? Oh, my gosh."
The fourth quarter of the Class M state championship game went by slowly, too, Sunday in front of 7,559 people at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Whalers, once leading by 17, saw their advantage trimmed to one, with New London willing the game to be over and its opponent, Morgan, requiring the Whalers focus until the final seconds.
And finally it was, as Osborne referred to things, "official."
The fifth-seeded New London High School girls' basketball team - with a little patience - won its first state championship in program history, topping No. 6 Morgan 57-52 behind 16 points and 11 rebounds from Osborne, who led a dominant frontcourt performance featuring 10 blocked shots.
India Pagan added nine points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks, the other part of the New London front line, and Jada Lucas (12 points), Deanna McCarvell (10 points) and Lexus Childs-Harris (10 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds) all reached double figures.
The storybook run for the Whalers (24-4) gives them the first state championship for a girls' team at New London since the outdoor track team won in 1978-79 and capped a turnaround which saw the Whalers go from 2-18 in 2012 to television cameras and "We are the champions" blaring from the loudspeakers.
The Whalers, under second-year coach Kerrianne Dugan, lost only to Class L runner-up Weaver and Eastern Connecticut Conference champion Norwich Free Academy this season, twice each.
"I think there's pressure. You don't want to get here just to get here," Dugan said. "You want to get here and win the championship. We visualized it, walking through the tunnel, and today we did it, like 'we really did it; we're here.' … I don't know. They're crazy (right now). They're really excited. They didn't just get here."
Dugan, for the record, doesn't like it when her team blocks shots for fear of fouls.
"She tells me, 'Charee, go straight up,'" Osborne said. "Normally we don't block."
But, following a big day in a semifinal victory over top-seeded Holy Cross - Osborne had 19 rebounds and Pagan 13 in a 44-32 win - the duo came through once again. Pagan, a 6-foot-2 freshman, had four blocked shots in the first half to set the tone and Osborne, who is 5-10, had 10 points and seven rebounds at halftime.
Although no Most Valuable Player award is given in basketball, by the end of the game Osborne had the crowd chanting, "MVP, MVP."
"They're tough as heck," Morgan coach Joe Grippo said of the two. "We played against (University of Hartford-bound Janelle) Harrison from Cromwell, but she's an entirely different type of player. She's more of a finesse kid. They're really physical. Their physical presence is so incredible that we just couldn't deny them the ball or keep it away from them.
"Osborne is just a heck of a player."
Morgan (22-6), bidding for its third state championship, originally led 9-2, but New London followed with eight straight points to end the first quarter and took a 10-9 lead on an offensive rebound by Osborne with 42.5 seconds left.
The Whalers never trailed again, leading 27-19 at halftime, 46-32 after three quarters and by as much as 50-33 early in the fourth quarter.
Morgan, however, led by 16 points, six assists and four steals overall from Sami Ashton, launched a 19-2 run over the next four minutes to pull within 53-52 on a drive by Tori Hopkins with two minutes to play.
Lucas was fouled the next time down the floor for New London, though, and hit a pair of free throws, pushing the margin back to a more comfortable three. Morgan missed, with Childs-Harris securing the rebound for the Whalers, and Osborne hit one of two free throws with 1:02 to go to make it 56-52.
Lucas added one more free throw at the 34-second mark for the final margin.
"I couldn't wait to get it over with," Osborne said. "I was screaming before the buzzer went off. It's just … joy. Everybody jumping. Happy."
"I was like, 'Oh, shoot,'" Childs-Harris said of the closing moments. "If we want it, we're going to have to go get it. We started to get kind of hectic. … I can't even explain. It's really special. It's crazy."
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