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Montville girls get best of St. Bernard in competitive ECC matchup

Montville — In a normal year where being in a crowded room wasn't hazardous to one's health, Montville's 47-43 win over St. Bernard on Tuesday night would be the norm for both girls' basketball teams.

Montville and St. Bernard are two of the smallest schools in the Eastern Connecticut Conference. The conference has four divisions based on both enrollment and previous success with no crossover games between Division I and Divisions III and IV.

Montville has a girls' enrollment of 292, according to the CIAC, and played in Division III last season.

St. Bernard has 116 girls, which ranks 177th out of the CIAC's 183 schools. It played in Division IV.

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic forced the ECC to scrap its four divisions and downsize to two based on geography. Montville and the Saints, then, are playing in the South Division against the likes of Norwich Free Academy (1,173 girls), the new No. 1 team in the GameTimeCT state poll. They're also playing East Lyme (518), New London (454) and Bacon Academy (385), the latter which is by no means a giant but has been a consistent winner and won state titles in 2009 (Class M) and 2012 (Class L).

The Indians are 1-3; St. Bernard 1-5.

"When we first heard there were going to be two bubbles, if you will, it was a little disconcerting because in our division that we were supposed to be in, I thought we had a very competitive team," Montville head coach Becky Alfonso said. "Honestly, I just got past it really quickly because I was just happy to play."

Saints head coach Mike Nystrom said, "Would I rather play the teams I'm supposed to play? Yes. ... In the beginning, I was really upset by the decision. Then I said, 'Okay, there's no state tournament. It's a different (year). It's 10 (total) games. So let's not worry about it.' So I don't lose any sleep over it now."

The Indians believe they would've had a shot to win the Division III title. They have junior Maya Hillman (22 points, 18 rebounds), a 6-foot-1 center who earned a spot on the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Class M team last season. They also have experienced seniors like guard Jill Murallo (eight points).

"We're playing against big schools and really good teams," Alfonso said. "It's kind of cool to see them play, honestly. I try to get my kids to stay positive about it and not go into games like, 'Oh, my gosh, we're playing New London.'

"I won't say I like losing games. I do not. ... I know we had a (56-34) loss to New London (on Feb. 26), but I still count that as a competitive game because we were in the game up until one of our players got hurt and it fell off. We've competed in every game that we've played, so I'm really happy about it. It only makes the kids better to play against better competition."

St. Bernard has little depth and had its five starters play the entire game. Freshman Angelica Tompkins scored 20 and senior Lindsay Clement had 12 points.

"I do think (this) might help us next year," Nystrom said. "We'll have three starters back — Angelica, (junior) Sophia (Boras) and (junior) Erin (Londregan). We're playing some pretty good competition. ... We played NFA, we lost by 19 (52-33, Feb. 16). Nothing wrong with that game. We played really well.

"They're doing a great job. I can't ask for anything more from them. ... They don't quit no matter who were playing, so it's been okay. I've actually enjoyed it."

n.griffen@theday.com

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