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    Wednesday, February 28, 2024

    New London-Mercy: Two of the state’s best girls’ teams will face off for Class MM title

    New London senior Nalyce Dudley, right, will end her career at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday at 8:15 p.m. when the Whalers play Mercy of Middletown for the CIAC Class MM girls’ basketball championship. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The two Class MM state tournament semifinal games were held as a doubleheader last week, which allowed Mercy High School coach Tim Kohs to scout New London as the Whalers handily dispatched Wolcott.

    Kohs later described New London’s 62-36 victory over Wolcott as “disappointing.” What he meant was it was disappointing for him because that’s the team Mercy will play Sunday night with the state championship at stake.

    No. 4 Mercy takes on No. 6 New London in the Class MM title game at 8:15 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena, the final game that will be played of the 10 boys’ and girls’ basketball state championships. Both teams are 20-6.

    “The other night was really disappointing watching them ‘cause they looked so good,” Kohs said. “They’re very talented. That game the other night, I watched them and I said, ‘Wow.’

    “I knew they were good. (Nalyce) Dudley’s a stud. They’ve got two of the best kids in the state without question. But they played lights out the other night. It was disappointing to watch that and say, ‘Wow, they play like that.’ ... You’ve got to do your best to make sure they don’t play that well.”

    New London, which has navigated the season with just seven players, is competing in its fifth championship game since 2014. The Whalers won the Class M title in 2014 and the Class LL crown in 2017.

    Mercy has been to the final seven times previously, winning the Class LL championship most recently in 2018.

    The Tigers were ranked eighth in the latest GameTimeCT Top 10 state poll. New London is 10th.

    Dudley, The Day’s reigning All-Area Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year, will play next season at Division I Sacred Heart. New London coach Tammy Millsaps, who arrived to coach the Whalers when Dudley was a sophomore, calls her one of the top three players she’s ever coached.

    “And not because of her ability as an athlete and a basketball player, but because of her sincerity to want to be coached,” Millsaps said. “... If I correct her, she’ll never talk back. ‘Yes, ma’am.’ She could know I’m dead wrong and she will say, ‘Yes, coach.’”

    The 5-foot-11 Dudley is joined by 6-2 sophomore Serenity Lancaster. Most games this season had similar stat lines to the ones the duo recorded against Wolcott. Lancaster finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. Dudley had 18 points, seven assists, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

    The Whalers played their semifinal with a sense of urgency, as if Wolcott stole their lunch money.

    “My mentality was ‘I want this win,’” Dudley said. “We had a whole lot of confidence going on. We already had our confidence high from the beginning.

    “I’m really excited. We’re a small group here and I’m extremely proud of just how far we made it. Just because we have one of our players, that was Ky-Ani (Allgood), she was hurt, she was out for some time. We know how to manage it and still move on. Now, having her back is such a great, key factor to our team.”

    Mercy, meanwhile, has five seniors who have been with the team since they were thrown into the fire as freshmen. They were 9-11 during the regular season in 2020.

    “They were not varsity ready. They would have been a really good JV team with upper classmen to look up to and learn how to practice hard and all that,” Kohs said of that first season together.

    “The whole group played. We had eight freshmen come in and three to five of them started every varsity game and played JV because we had no numbers. They took their lumps. ... They’ve taken another step up every year.”

    One of Mercy’s strengths is its defense. The Tigers won their semifinal game 50-27 over Hand, outscoring Hand 20-0 in the fourth quarter. Kohs, though, calls New London “a matchup” problem because of its size.

    “We’re not a big, physical team. We’re pretty much a bunch of guards,” Kohs said. “But we’ve got a little depth. We have multiple kids who can score. We shoot the ball well. There’s things they’ve got to worry about as well.”

    Millsaps said New London’s goal since day one has been a state championship and she’s not afraid to say it. The Whalers already won the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I tournament at Mohegan Sun this season and they’re bidding for title No. 2 on that same floor.

    “I’ve been telling them the same thing I’m thinking to myself,” Millsaps said. “Do what you’ve always been doing the entire season. What are we going to change it up now for? We’re going to do exactly what we’ve done in the last two and a half to three months to get us over the hump to this weekend.”

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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