NFA (in overtime), Bacon Academy girls reach ECC Division I title game

Norwich — Norwich Free Academy freshman Jada Mills stood on the left baseline Saturday and watched as her 3-point field goal attempt splashed through the net with 2 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in overtime.

With it, the hour and a half's worth of tension that had built in the room essentially dissipated.

Sparked by the Mills three, top-seeded NFA took firm control of the overtime session to beat No. 4 East Lyme 58-47 in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I girls' basketball semifinals at NFA, delivering the Wildcats to Tuesday night's league championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena.

"Just knowing how important the win was for my team," said Mills, asked what gave her the courage to launch the 3 in that situation, when neither team had scored in the opening few series of overtime. "It means a lot to us, especially our seniors."

"She's a freshman, but she doesn't feel like one," NFA point guard Jenissa Varela said of Mills. "For sure (the 3) started up our energy again."

NFA's was the last storyline of a long day of ECC semifinals. It started with Putnam and Killingly reaching the ECC Division II championship game which will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday, prior to the Division I final at 8 p.m.

Then, No. 3 Bacon Academy became the first Division I finalist, knocking off three-time defending tournament champion New London 56-38. The Bobcats (19-3) did so despite missing ECC first team all-star Valerie Luizzi, who is out for the season with a fractured wrist.

Finally, in the closing game, East Lyme senior guard Sophie Dubreuil threatened to steal the spotlight from NFA, finishing with 26 points, willing the game into a fourth quarter chess match in which both teams had a chance to score the go-ahead basket in the final moments of regulation.

In overtime, however, Mills changed the momentum.

Varela followed with a basket, assisted by Makayla Poirier-Vaughters, to put the Wildcats up five. And NFA clinched it from the foul line in the final 1:40, getting two free throws from Sarah Ericson and four from Varela, who dribbled out the clock.

"It was a very emotional game, for sure," Varela said. "We just had to trust each other."

"At the end of regulation, we had our back to the wall," first-year NFA coach Courtney Gomez said. "The resiliency of these kids ... it was unbelievable. You go up three in overtime, I think they just relaxed. ... Credit East Lyme. They've gotten so much better. Sophie is an unbelievable player, in my opinion the best player in the ECC and she deserves that."

NFA led 38-33 after three quarters. Dubreuil scored eight straight to start the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer on an inbounds pass from Camryn Price — Dubreuil had been inbounding the ball to that point — and a three-point play.

She scored 13 points in all in the fourth quarter, giving East Lyme a 47-45 lead before NFA's Poirier-Vaughters scored inside with 1:10 remaining in regulation to send it to overtime.

Poirier-Vaughters finished with 18 points, Varela 12 and Mills 10 for NFA, which returns to the ECC final after a year away.

Bacon, meanwhile, earned a return trip to the ECC championship game, leading New London throughout.

Freshman Marissa Nudd had 16 points and 13 rebounds and Caitlin Shea had 15 points, all in the second half for the Bobcats. Jayden Burns had 15 points and Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick 10 for New London (18-4), but both were plagued with foul trouble.

Bacon led just 23-22 at halftime after a resounding second quarter by New London freshman Nalyce Dudley, who on one sequence saved a ball from going out of bounds — she tipped over a chair on the New London bench — then made a 3-pointer on the other end.

But Shea's scoring in the second half changed things, in particular a four-point play with 5:02 to play in the third quarter that gave Bacon its biggest lead of the game at 32-24. Cassidy LaSaracina followed that with a 3-pointer to extend the margin to 11.

"They played better. They hit shots," New London coach David Kohn said. "They did a great job and we got into foul trouble. This is a team, they're limited when we get in foul trouble; Joniyah, Jayden, you can't replace them. It happens. They're not machines.

"They'll come back. They're young. They're strong. If we do good things in the (Class LL state) tournament, this will be forgotten. It was the perfect storm. It happens."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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