Unbeaten New London girls use 15-0 run to put away NFA

New London’s Taina Pagan (30) attempts to move past Norwich Free Academy’s Sarah Ericson, left, and Carsen Keith (42) during Friday night’s ECC Division I girls’ basketball showdown at Conway Gym. The No. 2 Whalers remained unbeaten with a 50-31 win. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
New London’s Taina Pagan (30) attempts to move past Norwich Free Academy’s Sarah Ericson, left, and Carsen Keith (42) during Friday night’s ECC Division I girls’ basketball showdown at Conway Gym. The No. 2 Whalers remained unbeaten with a 50-31 win. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

New London — Rosi Nicholson was in the midst of a three-point play for the New London High School girls' basketball team, part of it before a Norwich Free Academy timeout and part of it after.

The second-ranked Whalers were in the process of putting together a 15-0 run at the time that not even a series of timeouts by NFA coach Bill Scarlata could stop, as New London's pressure rattled a young Wildcats team into six straight turnovers. Meanwhile, New London's lead grew from two points to 17 on the way to a 50-31 victory.

"Coach (Holly Misto's) final message at halftime was she didn't want them scoring again," New London senior captain Cora Sawyer said. "This was our house, no one wins in our gym, this is our game. ... It just refocused us as a group. Why not just shut 'em out now?"

The third quarter began with a layup by NFA's Makayla Poirier-Vaughters, who was also fouled on the play, pulling the Wildcats within 26-24. Not such a great start to the blueprint for New London, which led 26-22 at halftime.

After that, New London's Tai Pagan scored two straight baskets. The Whalers' defense then forced NFA into a five-second call, followed by a backcourt violation, a steal by Sawyer, Nicholson's three-point play, a Scarlata timeout, another steal by New London's Spencer Roman which resulted in a jump shot by Sawyer and another NFA timeout.

After that came another NFA turnover and a basket by Nicholson from Leilani McClellan, which made the score 41-24 in New London's favor. NFA would finish with just nine points in the second half.

New London's other senior captain, Nicholson finished with 18 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Sawyer had 14 points, five assists and two steals and Pagan had 10 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks, three assists and two steals. McClellan had four steals and three assists for the Whalers, 12-0 overall, 5-0 in Division I of the Eastern Connecticut Conference.

Freshman Sarah Ericson led NFA (5-7, 1-2) with 12 points, all in the first half and all coming by way of 3-point field goals, which is what most likely led to Misto's halftime soliloquy on defense. Poirier-Vaughters added seven.

The matchup was the first between the teams since last year's ECC Division I tournament championship game, won by New London. The Whalers and the Wildcats split their regular-season meetings a year ago to each earn a share of the Division I title.

Both teams have played a punishing early-season nonconference schedule, with New London meeting No. 6 East Haven and No. 7 Notre Dame of Fairfield, as well as perennial power Capital Prep, which is also receiving votes in the GameTimeCT/New Haven register poll, as is ECC Division I opponent East Lyme.

NFA has faced East Lyme, No. 1 Mercy, No. 4 RHAM and E.O. Smith (also receiving votes), in addition to No. 2 New London.

The Wildcats, however, have less experience than New London, starting one senior in guard Kayley Ericson, plus two freshmen in Sarah Ericson and Jenissa Varela and two sophomores in Aaliyah Brittan and Vaughters.

"They were all over our freshman guards. They weren't strong enough to handle it, but give us a year, they will be," Scarlata said. "(New London) was a lot more aggressive. We're small and petite (at guard) and it showed. We started out great, then we get tired and I can't take my freshman guards out. They just wilted."

"The defense led to stops, which led to points," Nicholson said.

Scarlata, who stood at midcourt and applauded as New London's players were introduced prior to the game, was complimentary of the Whalers — "I like these kids," he said. "(Nicholson) was great. She shot the ball better from outside than I thought."

New London led 13-10 after one quarter, with nine of NFA's points coming on Sarah Ericson 3s.

"When you're this young, I don't know if they understand what I want," Scarlata said of his team, which now gets the task of playing Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Friday in what is a four-game schedule next week. "I love my team. I really do. ... We'll learn from it and get better."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

Norwich Free Academy's Sarah Ericson (22) is double-teamed under the basket by New London's Rosi Nicholson (2) and Leilani McClellan during Friday night's game at New London. The No. 2 Whalers won 50-31. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Norwich Free Academy's Sarah Ericson (22) is double-teamed under the basket by New London's Rosi Nicholson (2) and Leilani McClellan during Friday night's game at New London. The No. 2 Whalers won 50-31. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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