New London, NFA advance to ECC Division I tournament final

New London's Cora Sawyer (15) and Stonington's Kate Johnson dive for a loose ball after Johnson knocked the ball out of Sawyer's hand during the top-seeded Whalers' 63-33 win over the No. 4 Bears in Saturday's ECC Division I girls' basketball tournament final at NFA. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
New London's Cora Sawyer (15) and Stonington's Kate Johnson dive for a loose ball after Johnson knocked the ball out of Sawyer's hand during the top-seeded Whalers' 63-33 win over the No. 4 Bears in Saturday's ECC Division I girls' basketball tournament final at NFA. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Norwich — Stonington is not a team to shy away from a foot race, making even New London's resident dervish Rosi Nicholson, generally the first one down the floor, react in the following way:

“I said, 'Whoa,'” Nicholson said.

But pace is the New London High School girls' basketball team's favorite four-letter word, too, causing even East Lyme track coach Carl Reichard — taking in a New London-East Lyme girls' game recently — to remark that the Whalers would make a first-rate track team.

Eventually, in Saturday's Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I semifinals, the game's velocity favored unbeaten and top-seeded New London, with the Whalers outrunning the No. 4 Bears 63-33 to advance to Wednesday's championship game.

Stonington led 13-6 in the first quarter, with Aliza Bell scoring seven of the Bears' points, and 13-11 at the quarter's end.

New London, though, outscored Stonington 18-6 in the second quarter, taking the lead for good at 17-15 on an offensive rebound converted by Xaryia Melendez, and Nicholson finished with eight in the quarter as the Whalers began to add fuel to their defense.

“We hadn't played Stonington this year. All we know is they're a really fast team,” said Nicholson, who finished with team highs of 15 points, seven steals and four assists. “I had no idea it was going to (start) slow. But we started to get in a groove.”

Tai Pagan added 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots for New London, ranked first in the GameTimeCT/New Haven Register state poll, Melendez had 12 points and eight rebounds and Spencer Roman nine points. Leilani McClellan contributed with seven rebounds and three assists.

The Whalers (22-0) will play Norwich Free Academy (13-9) for the Division I title at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Plainfield High School.

No. 2 NFA, on the strength of 17 points and 11 rebounds from sophomore Makayla Poirier-Vaughters, defeated No. 6 Bacon Academy 39-24 in the other semifinal to advance to its seventh straight final. The Wildcats won five straight titles before falling to New London in last year's final.

That game will be preceded by the Division II final at 5:30 p.m., featuring No. 2 Lyman Memorial (14-8) and No. 4 Waterford (13-9).

“We may be winning by a lot sometimes, but our kids are working hard,” New London coach Holly Misto said of the up and down pace against Stonington. “We were expecting a really good game and they gave us a good game for the first half. I think we wore them down a little bit; the last three minutes, we were the ones that were tired.

“We love to run. That's a great game for us. Stonington played hard the whole game."

New London led 29-19 at halftime, finishing on a blocked shot by Pagan, then scored 21 straight points to start the third quarter, allowing the Bears only a free throw by Kate Johnson with 46.6 seconds remaining. That made it 50-20.

Johnson scored nine points for Stonington (14-7) and Bell had eight points and eight rebounds. The Bears will next play in the first round of the Class M state tournament, with Stonington coach Paulla Solar vying for her 400th career victory.

The start of the first Division I semifinal of the day between NFA and Bacon was moved from what was originally the day's late game to 10 a.m., in an attempt to weather-proof the tournament. Bacon soon led 12-5 over NFA when Molly Kelly converted an offensive rebound with 1:18 remaining in the first quarter.

Bacon, however, did not score another field goal until there was 2:15 left in the third quarter, an overall span of 15:03. During that time, NFA's Poirier-Vaughters scored 11 straight points, bringing the Wildcats within 12-10 after one quarter and soon giving them the lead.

By the time Bacon's Kellie Nudd hit a 3-pointer to break the drought, NFA led 26-18 and made it 30-18 by the end of the third quarter on a jump shot by Kayley Ericson and another basket by Poirier-Vaughters.

“I know it wasn't the first period. I wasn't happy in the first period,” NFA coach Bill Scarlata said, asked when, exactly, the Wildcats defense kicked in. “There weren't any changes in X's and O's, more of an attitude change. We slept-walked through the first quarter, but I'm not a big morning person, so I could sense where they were coming from.”

“It's really important, our defense. That's what we practice most,” Poirier-Vaughters said.

NFA last missed the final in 2011 when Bacon Academy topped Windham.

• Julianna Bonilla finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Bekah Sanders added 12 points and 14 rebounds as Waterford topped No. 1 Plainfield 50-35 in the ECC Division II tournament semifinals.

“To get three games in (in the ECC tournament) before the state tournament is huge,” Waterford coach Brian Fleming said. “To get some games in and be able to practice, learning to make plays and close out a game … It's a great opportunity for us to win a championship.”

Lyman Memorial defeated Windham 49-45 in overtime in the other semifinal.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

New London's Tai Pagan (30) blocks a shot by Stonington's Kate Johnson during  the top-seeded Whalers' 63-33 win over the No. 4 Bears in Saturday's ECC Division I girls' basketball tournament final at NFA. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
New London's Tai Pagan (30) blocks a shot by Stonington's Kate Johnson during the top-seeded Whalers' 63-33 win over the No. 4 Bears in Saturday's ECC Division I girls' basketball tournament final at NFA. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

2017-18 ECC AWARD WINNERS / GIRLS' BASKETBALL

The following is a list of 2017-18 Eastern Connecticut Conference girls' basketball all-star,  sportsmanship and scholar-athlete award winners:

Division I

First team: Rosi Nicholson (New London), Tai Pagan (New London), Sarah Serbascewicz (Ledyard), Sophie Dubreuil (East Lyme), Megan Bauman (East Lyme), Xaryia Melendez (New London).

Honorable mention: Cora Sawyer (New London), Spencer Roman (New London), Kayley Ericson (NFA), Julia Lavin (Ledyard), Nadia Tarhini (East Lyme), Leilani McClellan (New London).

Sportsmanship: Katie Durkee (East Lyme), Mikayla Charles Haley (Fitch), Natalie Poulton (Ledyard), Madison Keefe (New London), Georgia Woodcock (NFA).

Scholar-athlete: Katie Durkee (East Lyme), Ciarra Jimenez (Fitch), Sarah Serbascewicz (Ledyard), Cora Sawyer (New London), Maddy Perrino (NFA).

Division II

First team: Kellie Nudd (Bacon), Kylee Mazzarella (Killingly), Kate Hall (Stonington), Julianna Bonilla (Waterford), Jamie Woods (Woodstock), Heather Converse (Woodstock).

Honorable mention: Bridget Anderson (Bacon), Molly Kelly (Bacon), Reagan Morin (Killingly), Bekah Sanders (Waterford), Emily Meigs (Montville), Miranda Arruda (Stonington).

Sportsmanship: Cassidy LaSaracina (Bacon), Julie Trafaconda (Killingly), Emmiley Genua (Montville), Zoe Ribeiro (Stonington), Skylar Holmes (Waterford), Kalianna Dingui (Woodstock).

Scholar-athlete: Taylor Rochette (Bacon), Julia Trafaconda (Killingly), Kara Beaupre (Montville), Izzy Yarnall (Stonington), Ashley Goldstein (Waterford), Ciri Miller (Woodstock).

Division III

First team: Madison Kelley (Plainfield), Hailey Tompkins (Lyman), Neisha Rodriguez (Windham), Emily Nelson (St. Bernard), Lauren Ramos (Tourtellotte), Tamia McBride (Windham), Emma Morgan (Wheeler).

Honorable mention: Chloe LaPierre (Plainfield), Nicole Bibeau (Lyman), Katey Kwasniewski (Tourtellotte), Emma Dembinski (Griswold), Nicole Peralta (Windham), Savannah Galluci (Wheeler).

Sportsmanship: Hanna Clark (Griswold), Sidney Pankowski (Lyman), Kayla Morey (Plainfield), Carly Potts (St. Bernard), Rebecca Torres (Tourtellotte), Samantha Caster (Wheeler), Rylee Valliere (Windham).

Scholar-athlete: Bethany Ladd (Griswold), Nicole Bibeau (Lyman), Katherine Lorange (Plainfield), Briana Beverly (St. Bernard), Katey Kwasniewski (Tourtellotte), Emma Morgan (Wheeler), Ainsley Dupuis (Windham).

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