NFA boys beat New London to keep ECC Div. I title hopes alive
New London — Among the most worn out storylines in the history of the Eastern Connecticut Conference: big, bad Norwich Free Academy. The biggest school, the perennial favorite, if for no other reason than to whom much is given, much is expected.
But in the winter of 2018? Shhh. The — gulp — underdog Wildcats have a chance to join East Lyme as co-champs of ECC Division I Tuesday night. Their title chances stayed alive Friday night with a 64-57 win over New London at Conway Gym.
Thus far this season, the Wildcats have followed along as East Lyme, Waterford and New London have made more headlines with big wins and notable players. Meanwhile ...
"It's a lot easier to coach his way," NFA coach Chris Guisti said. "We always have that target on our back. (Griswold coach) Rob Mileski thinks we have five Division I players every year. It's more fun to be the hunter than the hunted."
NFA led for most of this game, but nearly watched New London's second miracle in as many nights. Gio Lopez's halfcourt buzzer beater gave the Whalers a win over previously undefeated Prince Tech on Thursday. Jalen Benson's 3-pointer with a minute left Friday pulled New London, once down 14, within two.
But that's when the Wildcats executed two of their biggest plays of the season: consecutive backdoor baskets from Aidan Miller and Nik Hay to all but end it.
"I've always been taught to cut without the ball," Hay said. "They were overplaying and it was there."
Hay, Miller and Bret Wood led the Wildcats with 15 points apiece.
Lopez had 21 to lead the Whalers. Edwardo Gonzalez had 12 and Benson had 10.
"The back to back (games) hurt us," New London coach Craig Parker said. "We tried hard not to play the two in a row but we just couldn't work it out. We didn't want to because we knew they'd be two physically and emotionally draining games. It showed in the first half. We were lethargic."
Guisti said, "The back to back games had to take a toll. If we play them again, we better be ready. They'll be hungry."
Maybe even as hungry as NFA for its game at home with East Lyme on Tuesday for the title.
"It's been fueling us," Guisti said, alluding to the regular season title. "(Former NFA coach) Neal Curland always said that the regular season was more the true title to win. The tournament is more fun to win because there's 1,500 people there, but winning the regular season shows the true mark of a team. We've focused on that."