DURHAM >> Cromwell seniors Mya Villard, Emma Belcourt, Araya Lessard and Alyssa Wright have had their share of championship moments over the past four seasons. They’ve been prolific winners. And on Thursday night they hoisted the Shoreline Conference championship trophy one more time.
The Panthers (23-0), who are ranked No. 4 in the Register/GameTimeCT Top 10 poll, defeated Morgan, 57-50, to capture their third SLC title in four years before a standing-room-only crowd at Coginchaug.
“We played great tonight,” Cromwell coach Kelly Maher said. “When you play Morgan you know everything they’re going to do and they know what we’re going to do. We tell the kids, now the third season begins. We finished the first two, and they’re happy with the outcome. But now we’re going to go back to work and get ready for season number three. It starts over.”
Belcourt led Cromwell’s balanced attack with 12 points. Villard and junior Nikki Bitinaitis had 11 points apiece, and juniors Theresa Quinn (seven points) and Geanna Williams (seven points) gave Cromwell a huge lift off the bench as the top-seeded Panthers edged Morgan for the third time this season.
“There’s so many components to our game,” Villard said. “That’s why I think we can go pretty far this season.”
Morgan senior Sami Ashton, the SLC Player of the Year, had a remarkable performance with 28 points, while senior Josie Sullivan chipped in 16 points for the defending champion Huskies (19-4). This was the fourth straight year the teams have met in the SLC finals.
“Cromwell’s a good basketball team,” Morgan coach Joe Grippo said. “I’m not going to take anything away from them. Sami has to do way too much for us. I’m happy with the way we fought and we had chances. But it’s tough to play them from behind. We need to get a lead on them. If we can win two games we’re lined up to see them again (in states).”
Cromwell, which led 26-22 at halftime, never trailed in the second half. The Panthers led 37-32 after three quarters before stretching their advantage to 46-36 on Lessard’s low post hoop.
“I thought we made the right adjustments at halftime and that helped us down the stretch,” Maher said.
Ashton’s steal and layup closed the gap to 50-44 with 2:50 left in the fourth quarter before Cromwell sealed it by making 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch.
“We’re on the same side of the bracket so hopefully we both advance,” Ashton said. “I don’t like to lose.”
There were seven lead changes in the first half. Ashton got off to a flying start, scoring eight of Morgan’s first 10 points. But the Panthers ended the first quarter with a 6-0 spurt, capped by a pair of baskets from a Williams to lead 14-12.
Ashton’s nifty left-handed layup in traffic tied it at 22 late in the second quarter. With less than a minute to go, Villard sank two free throws and Quinn’s steal and layup gave the Panthers a 26-22 halftime lead.
“We knew Morgan was going to give us a run for the money,” Villard said. “We took care of business in the second half as usual. It gets annoying playing them over and over again. Let’s hope we can make it 4-0 if we play them again.”
CROMWELL 57, MORGAN 50
(at Coginchaug, Durham)
Morgan 12 10 10 18 – 50
Cromwell 14 12 11 20 – 57
Josie Sullivan 4 8-9 16, Shannon Maher 2 0-0 4, Sami Ashton 9 10-10 28, Riley Smith 0 0-0 0, Riley Thompson 0 0-0 0, Brianna Navarra 1 0-0 2. Totals: 16 18-19 50
Emma Belcourt 4 2-2 12, Nikki Bitinaitis 5 1-2 11, Araya Lessard 2 0-0 4, Geanna Williams 3 1-2 7, Theresa Quinn 3 0-0 7 , Alyssa Wright 1 3-4 5, Mya Villard 3 5-6 11. Totals: 21 12-16 57
3-point goals: Cromwell 3 (Belcourt 2, Quinn); Fouled out: Morgan (Riley Smith); Records: Morgan 19-4; Cromwell 23-0.