Enfield stuns No. 1 New London girls in Class LL quarterfinals
New London — Leilani McClellan was unloading 3-point field goals as if they were a buy-one-get-one free special and Rosi Nicholson was summoning the New London High School crowd to make some noise. A fever pitch at Conway Gymnasium. Just like always.
Only this time, the glimmer of sunshine, with the Whalers attempting to launch their most grueling comeback, culminated in a season-ending defeat Monday night in the quarterfinals of the Class LL girls' basketball tournament.
In a game of stops and starts which featured 61 trips to the free throw line, No. 8 Enfield avenged a loss to New London in last year's Class LL tournament, upending the previously unbeaten Whalers 69-61. That snapped a 33-game winning streak by No. 1 New London (25-1), including last year's Class LL state championship.
"It's hard to lose right now, especially at home," said McClellan, a senior. "It was my last home game. It was really hard. ... We're such a family. To come this far. But the other team had good players. It was a battle. The fouls just killed us. Just killed us."
Cat Fonseca had 23 points for Enfield (23-4) and Mary Baskerville, the Eagles' 6-foot-3 center headed next season to Division I Providence College, had 20. It is the fourth straight trip to the semifinals for Enfield, which lost in the semis last year against New London 57-36.
This time, with the game tied 27-27 at halftime, the Eagles scored 11 straight points to start the third quarter, eight by Baskerville, taking the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Fonseca to make it 30-27.
Meanwhile, New London, which ended the half with stars Nicholson, Xaryia Melendez and Spencer Roman all on the bench in foul trouble, was called for a foul 11 seconds into the third quarter and Melendez picked up her fourth shortly thereafter.
Enfield led 38-27 before New London scored in the third quarter and got the lead to 13 at 42-29. It was 46-36 after three quarters, 55-43 after Fonseca completed a three-point play with 4:55 remaining.
Then came a moment when New London played like New London, fans screaming, defense pressing, 3-pointers flying. Nicholson hit an outside shot to carve into the Enfield lead and McClellan followed with a 3-pointer. After a basket by Fonseca, McClellan hit another 3, leaping in the air in celebration, adrenalin pumping. Two free throws by Nicholson got the lead to 57-53, still with 3:37 to play. A pretty good minute or so.
"After the first 3, I just had to bring it for my team," said McClellan, still tearful. "I was just trying to decrease the deficit. I just started shooting."
From there, however, Enfield scored the remainder of its points from the free throw line, shooting 26-for-38 overall, while New London's lineup slowly dwindled, with Nicholson, Melendez and Tai Pagan all fouling out. Baskerville also fouled out for Enfield.
The Eagles became the first team to score more than 36 points against the New London defense since Jan. 3, a span of 18 games in which New London gave up an average of just 27.9 points.
Pagan finished with 13 points and Melendez 11. Nicholson had 10 points, five assists and three steals and McClellan 10 points and four assists. Seniors Nicholson, McClellan, Cora Sawyer and Madison Keefe played their final game for the Whalers.
"They need to understand they need to keep their heads high," New London coach Holly Misto said. "We broke Enfield's hearts last year and they did it to us this year. I'm sad for them, but it's hard to be sad when I'm just so proud of them.
"... We didn't play New London basketball tonight. The defense wasn't there. It let us down a little bit. ... I got Rosi on the bench with two fouls (in the first half); of course that's going to change our game."
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