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    Monday, April 15, 2024

    Whalers repeat as ECC Div. I champs

    New London teammates celebrate their win over Ledyard in the ECC Girls Basketball Division I Championships at Mohegan Sun Arena Tuesday, February 20, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Ledyard’s Adrianna Hardison (10) puts up a basket from behind New London’s Serenity Lancaster (5) during the ECC Girls Basketball Division I Championships at Mohegan Sun Arena Tuesday, February 20, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    New London’s Jaidelis Rivera (20) and Nyarah Dudley (1) react to a foul call during the ECC Girls Basketball Division I Championships at Mohegan Sun Arena Tuesday, February 20, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    New London’s Jaidelis Rivera (00) sprints past Ledyard’s Cierra Bravar (4) during the ECC Girls Basketball Division I Championships at Mohegan Sun Arena Tuesday, February 20, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Ledyard’s Maggie Dykes (0) attempts to move around New London’s Italia Salls (11) during the ECC Girls Basketball Division I Championships at Mohegan Sun Arena Tuesday, February 20, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Mohegan — It is considered among the unlikeliest accomplishments in the history of state high school basketball: winning a state championship with seven players in the entire program.

    Imagine: never enough players to practice. What of a knee injury here, ankle tweak there? Or heaven forbid a flu/COVID outbreak.

    And yet the girls of New London High managed the Wallenda thing without a misstep, earning the 2023 Class MM title in the very building the Whalers were playing Tuesday night.

    Now the question: Will history repeat itself? There they were again playing seven players with a few more leftover on the bench. And they won another title, this the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I tournament crown, 56-47 over sixth-seeded Ledyard before 1,931 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena.

    Serenity Lancaster led the top-seeded Whalers with 25 points and 19 rebounds.

    “She does so many things,” New London coach Tammy Millsaps said. “On the offensive end, she’s getting double- and triple-teamed and makes the right plays. On defense, she’s an intimidator. So many facets.”

    Jaidelis Rivera had 11 for New London (19-4) and Ky’Ani Allgood had six points and 12 rebounds.

    In the semifinals, Millsaps never went to the bench, using starters Rivera, Nyara Dudley, Lancaster, Allgood and Marlena Childs. Millsaps used as many as seven Tuesday night.

    The Whalers led 29-21 at halftime, although it wasn’t easily gained. Dudley incurred three fouls and Lancaster two in the half. Dudley was whistled for her third foul with 1:38 left in the half. Millsaps opted to leave Dudley in the game — and was rewarded with a pair of 3-pointers that pushed New London’s lead to eight.

    Lancaster had 12 points and 12 rebounds in the half. She didn’t get her fourth foul until late in the game.

    “I didn’t want to get any stupid blocks,” Lancaster said. “I tried to slow myself down.”

    The Whalers also continued to employ Mohegan Sun as their de facto living room. They won the ECC Division I tournament and the Class MM state championship last year. New London also played at the Sun earlier this season, topping E.O. Smith 50-46 in The Day Holiday Classic in what was then a matchup against two of the state’s top 10. The program also has two other state championship victories on the Sun floor in 2013 and 2017.

    “It’s always a thrill to play here,” Millsaps said. “I’m a little happy. As a coach, you’re always critiquing how your team plays. You have to do the small things to be able to win.”

    m.dimauro@theday.com

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