New London girls beat No. 1 Trumbull to win Class LL state basketball championship
Mohegan — There was 1 minute, 37 seconds left in Saturday's CIAC Class LL girls' basketball championship game and New London hadn't allowed Trumbull a single point in the fourth quarter.
Yep. You read that right. The Whalers were 1:37 away from shutting a team out for a quarter in a state final.
"Wow," New London junior Rosalee Nicholson said. "I don't know what else to say. We're mostly a defensive team, so we just do what we have to do."
What the Whalers did was use their strength to scrape their way to a difficult, messy and beautiful state title before a 8,186 fans, many sporting the green and gold.
New London 42, Trumbull 36.
The state champions of the CIAC's roughest, toughest and meanest division.
The third-seeded Whalers (26-2) never won a state title prior to 2014. Now they have two.
"These kids really, really care about each other," New London coach Holly Misto said. "They play for each other. They do have heart. And they really wanted to bring (a state title) back to their town and their city."
New London also made its case to be the No. 1 team in the final GameTimeCT/New Haven Register Top 10 state poll. It knocked off, in succession, the defending champion (Stamford, 58-56), the Central Connecticut Conference champion (Enfield, 57-36) and the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference champion and state's top-ranked team (Trumbull).
The Whalers also beat Class L finalist Hand and Class M runner-up Bacon Academy during the regular season.
"I feel we're the No. 1 team in the state," New London senior Jada Lucas said. "We had to prove it, and we proved it.
"I'm really so proud of my team."
Senior India Pagan had a game-high 18 points and 11 rebounds for New London and sophomore Xaryia Melendez added 10 points, seven rebounds and two steals.
Julia Keckler (12 points, five steals) was the only player to score in double figures for Trumbull (26-2).
It was perhaps the most unsightly win of the season for the Whalers. They shot 35.6 percent and turned it over 22 times, an uncharacteristically high number for them.
"It's a little bit of nerves because you're playing in front of thousands of people," Lucas said. "We always have big crowds, but this is different. You have people who have never even seen you before. You're just trying to play well."
New London made the Eagles struggle even more, though. They shot 30 percent (12 of 40) and turned it over 21 times. They were also outrebounded 36-29.
"New London's ball pressure really took us out of a lot of the things we wanted to do," Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch said. "New London is a fantastic team. Coach Holly Misto, I have a lot of respect for her."
The Whalers took a 32-31 lead into the fourth quarter when they slowly began pulling away. Lucas opened the period with two free throws. Sophomore Spencer Roman followed with another to give New London a 35-31 lead with 6:54 remaining.
Melendez, who had been struggling as much as any Whaler, came through in the clutch for her team. She had a put-back and a layup in quick succession to push New London ahead 39-31 with 4:33 left.
"Last year, I was on the bench (in the Class L final)," Melendez said. "So I would say it was hard for me at times (Saturday), but I calmed my nerves down thanks to my teammates, who had previously played in the final."
Trumbull missed its first eight shots of the quarter before Keckler made a 3-pointer with 1:36 left to cut the Whalers' lead to 40-34.
The Eagles made 2 of 12 shots in the fourth.
"We struggled to get clean looks at the hoop in the fourth quarter," Tobitsch said. "That's a credit to New London."
Nicholson set up the Whalers' last basket with a wild trip up court. She juked one defender with a crossover dribble near the media table, then cut left through two more defenders at halfcourt, nearly fell over, but kept her balance and kept on going, causing New London fans to lose their minds.
Lucas punctuated it with a layup to give the Whalers a 42-36 cushion with 37 seconds left.
"It feels really great to come out with the win," Nicholson said, "especially with this group of girls because there's not going to be another group of girls like this. We're just so close."
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