Relaxed Whalers cruise past Wolcott and into Class MM final
Guilford — The message from coach Tammy Millsaps to her New London High School girls’ basketball team this week was this: loosen up.
“Getting them to understand that when you play tight, when you play scared, you’re not the team we need you to be,” Millsaps said. “We were able to let the strings off, so to speak.”
The Whalers didn’t hesitate in the least Friday night. They played with a sense of urgency befitting a team that is heading to the Class MM state championship game next weekend, commanding their semifinal from start to finish.
Sixth-seeded New London dispatched No. 7 Wolcott 62-36 behind 32 points from sophomore Serenity Lancaster. The Whalers (20-6) will meet No. 4 Mercy, a 50-27 winner over No. 8 Hand, in the championship game March 18 or 19 at Mohegan Sun Arena, the fifth state championship appearance for New London since 2014.
“I’m very excited,” said Lancaster, a 6-foot-2 post player. “I can’t believe we made it here, especially with the amount of people we have (the Whalers have just seven athletes in the program).
“People would’ve never thought we would’ve made it to the (Eastern Connecticut Conference) championship, now we’ve made it to the state finals. I think we’ve made our whole city proud.”
Lancaster had a size mismatch against Wolcott, whose biggest player is 5-foot-6. She finished with 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots against the Eagles (18-8), who were vying for their first state championship bid in program history.
New London senior Nalyce Dudley added 18 points, seven assists, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Nyarah Dudley had seven points, eight rebounds, two steals and a block for the Whalers, whose seven were magnificent.
“In the beginning of the game, actually, our coach told us she has a strong feeling,” Lancaster said of Millsaps. “Usually in the locker room she has a lot to say but today she really had nothing to say. She said that she saw a lot of confidence in our eyes and a lot of things she hasn’t seen all season.
“I think we just took control of matters and had to make (Millsaps) proud. We had to just push through, make it to finals, because we know we can do it.”
New London won its quarterfinal Monday against No. 3 Sheehan 47-41. Millsaps noticed her team pressing and made that a point of emphasis during the week.
“The conversation was get off of social media and get off the internet and seeing what great things people are saying about you,” Millsaps said. “You got to go out and perform and I think they did that tonight. They really took it to heart.
“That’s the biggest challenge today is getting kids off social media and reading about all the things that are said about them and their team and they feel like they have to reach that expectation, that high. Tonight, I could sense the confidence. I knew this was going to be a special night for them. I could feel it.”
Nalyce Dudley, who led New London with 28 points in the quarterfinals, scored first against Wolcott, swishing her first of three 3-point field goals in the first half, as the Whalers went ahead 16-9 after one quarter and 32-16 at halftime.
Wolcott tied the game 7-7 in the first quarter on a drive by Amanda Sullivan, but Lancaster made two free throws to give the Whalers the lead back and Dudley hit her second 3-pointer of the quarter for a 12-7 edge.
Ahead 21-14 in the second quarter, New London launched a 9-0 run with two free throws by Ky-Ani Allgood, fouled while grabbing an offensive rebound. Dudley scored on a fast break, Lancaster scored inside on a feed from Dudley and Dudley capped the streak with a 3.
Millsaps said it was a different mindset she saw from Lancaster, while Lancaster said she wanted to make sure Dudley reached the state championship in her senior season. Dudley signed to play next season at Division I Sacred Heart.
“I really wanted to make sure I got it with her,” Lancaster said. “I just wanted to make it a fun year.”
This is the sixth state championship appearance for Millsaps, who won four straight (2013-16) while coaching at Capital Prep, including taking the 2016 title against New London. Millsaps is in her third season with the Whalers.
Julia Sullivan and Amanda Sullivan had 11 points each for Wolcott.