New London girls pitch a perfect game, finish regular season 20-0
New London — Going 20-0 wasn't one of New London's goals when the season started.
“We put it on the board today after it happened,” coach Holly Misto said. “It's not important. You don't get any extra awards. It doesn't put a banner on the wall.”
And yet the way the Whalers started Sunday's high school girls' basketball game against Pomperaug, it made it seem like a particularly significant occasion.
New London, playing its regular-season finale, didn't allow Pomperaug to score for the first 5 minutes, 33 seconds on the way to a crushing, 72-33 victory at Conway Gymnasium. That gave the Whalers their second perfect regular season in the last three years and the state's No. 1 ranking in a unanimous vote following a loss last week by previously top-ranked Mercy.
More importantly, it put New London, the defending Class LL state champion, where it wants to be headed into the postseason later this week.
“Yesterday we had a team meeting and we talked about effort,” said New London senior captain Rosi Nicholson. “From here on out, it's going to be very important. We need to practice hard. We're playing our last regular season game also and we wanted to go out with a bang.”
It was New London's 28th straight win, the perfect regular season remarkably following the graduation of a pair of Division I recruits and Class LL all-state selections in Jada Lucas (Hartford) and India Pagan (Stony Brook).
“I wouldn't say we had a goal to be undefeated,” Nicholson said. “I knew we were capable of that. We play hard. We play for each other. … From here on out, it's the same mindset: limit the mental mistakes, limit the physical mistakes, just go all out.”
Nicholson led the Whalers with 18 points and added three rebounds, three assists and three steals. Xaryia Melendez added 14 points and seven rebounds and Tai Pagan had 10 points, six rebounds, five steals, three assists and two blocked shots. Spencer Roman had nine points and Leilani McClennan five steals and five rebounds.
It was Nicholson and her breakneck speed which set the tone for New London in the first quarter, when she scored 12 points and heaped misery on Pomperaug with her defense. Nicholson alternated between jump shots and leading the Whalers' fast break, as they got off to a 16-0 lead.
Pomperaug (14-5) did not score until there was 2:27 left in the first quarter on a layup by Maggie Lee.
And that's not talking about just any ordinary team. Pomperaug was ranked ninth in the state the week of Jan. 21 and boasts a senior forward in Karli Opalka, a 1,000-point scorer who was one of three Connecticut players to be nominated for this season's McDonald's High School All-American Game.
And yet New London led 43-12 at halftime.
“It comes with how we play,” New London senior captain Cora Sawyer said of the tenor of the game and the unbeaten season. “We're a team that hates to lose. We had to gut it out through the rough games.”
“We were struggling on Friday,” said McClellan of a 41-27 victory over Norwich Free Academy. “We just had to pick it up. Sometimes this season, we struggled. We had to come out the next game and pick it back up.”
The Whalers will next try to defend their ECC tournament and Class LL tournament titles, beginning the postseason Thursday with an ECC quarterfinal against Fitch.
“I think we definitely are ready,” McClellan said. “Coach is going to prepare us for whatever's coming our way.”