New London girls beat Bacon 54-40 to win third straight ECC Div. I title
Norwich — New London's dominance has found different ways to manifest itself over the last three seasons. Sometimes, the Whalers command with their size. Sometimes, as they did earlier in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I girls' basketball tournament, they can break an opponent with their relentless spirit.
On Tuesday, it was a newcomer in sophomore point guard Jayden Burns — always someone coach Holly Misto depends on for defense and this time the starch in the offense, too, throughout the first half — that helped write yet another chapter.
Top-seeded New London won its third straight ECC Division I tournament title, beating No. 3 Bacon Academy 54-40 at Norwich Free Academy.
Burns, in her first season with New London (21-2) after transferring from NFA — her dad, Johnny Burns just completed his first season as Whalers football coach — scored 13 points, all in the first half, to earn All-Tournament honors.
She joined New London's Xaryia Melendez, Spencer Roman and Tai Pagan and Bacon Academy's Kellie Nudd on the All-Tournament Team. Melendez, who finished with 14 points, was named Most Outstanding Player.
"I feel like I kind of picked up the intensity," Burns said of her hot start. "We have a lot of good players. It's not hard to do good together."
Burns scored nine points in the first quarter, with the Whalers taking a 14-10 lead. She then scored the first four points of the second quarter, including a smooth-looking 3-pointer, giving her nine straight New London points.
The Whalers scored eight straight in all to start the second quarter, adding a basket by Roman and two points from Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick on the front end of a fast break to lead 22-10. New London led 30-16 at halftime.
Burns even got booed a little in the game, with the Whalers spending part of the third quarter with Burns holding the ball at the top of the key against Bacon's zone defense.
"We have to play our game," Burns said of the cascade of catcalls directed toward the Whalers, who were trying to force Bacon into a man-to-man. "We don't care what the crowd wants to see."
Burns, one-half of a brand new Whalers backcourt along with Bland-Fitzpatrick, a freshman, has settled into her role as point guard. She said her dad had her in the gym working out over the summer in preparation for joining her new teammates.
"Everyone has been extremely welcoming," Burns said of the new digs. "As the season keeps going on, I'm more comfortable and more comfortable."
"It's her job right now," Misto said of Burns' designation as point guard. "She's been playing well lately. Her and Joniyah are both learning what we need from them. It's a process, making good decisions with the basketball, trusting your teammates."
Bacon made up some ground in the third quarter, getting a pair of 3-pointers by Nudd (23 points) and one by Taylor Rochette to trail 39-29 headed to the fourth quarter.
But it wasn't enough, as New London once again asserted its dominance with a 13-3 run to start the fourth, capped by a jump shot from senior Da'Jah Uzzle, lengthening its lead and prompting a cheer of "Let's Go Whalers" in the stands during an ensuing timeout by Bacon.
Pagan added 14 points for New London.
"Defense definitely wins championships, as you can see," Burns said. "Defense is going to fuel our offense."
"You could have picked any number of MVPs," Misto said. "... They expect to win. It's an expectation. They don't always win, but it's an expectation. They set goals that it's important for them to achieve."
New London reached the championship game with a 60-34 semifinal victory Saturday against No. 5 East Lyme, getting 17 points and 14 rebounds from Melendez. New London led 16-0 in that game and 19-2 after one quarter in a defensive display East Lyme coach Sal Fiorillo would later call "impressive."
Bacon (18-5) came from behind to edge No. 2 Stonington 44-40 in the semifinals, getting five of six free throws in the final 14.3 seconds from Cassidy LaSaracina.
New London won the only regular-season matchup between the teams 62-41 on Dec. 21.
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