WALLINGFORD >> The Morgan and Cromwell girls basketball teams wrote another chapter in their epic Shoreline Conference rivalry on Monday night.
And the happy ending this time belonged to the Panthers.
Cromwell survived a furious fourth quarter rally from the top-seeded Huskies and advanced to the Class M championship game with a wild 52-49 victory at Sheehan High School.
The fourth-seeded Panthers (23-4) will meet No. 11 St. Joseph-Trumbull in the final this weekend at the Mohegan Sun Arena. St. Joseph’s defeated No. 10 Enfield, 61-39, in the other semifinal.
“It feels amazing,” Cromwell senior Nicole Rojas said. “Every time we lose to them we say we’ll get them when it counts, and this counted, and we got them. Finally.”
Cromwell and Morgan were meeting for the eighth time in two seasons. Morgan eliminated the Panthers in the Class M semifinals a year ago. The Huskies also defeated Cromwell three times this season, including a thrilling overtime win in the SLC championship game.
“After each game and each loss, we grew as a team,” Rojas said. “We learned from our mistakes.”
This one also had a thrilling finish as the Huskies rallied from a 13-point fourth quarter deficit.
Morgan junior Sami Ashton made a runner along the baseline with 9 seconds left to cut Cromwell’s lead to 51-49.
Rojas then made 1 of 2 free throws and the Huskies had a chance to tie it on a 3-pointer from Tori Hopkins in the final seconds but Hopkins’ shot rattled off the rim.
Cromwell led 43-30 after a pair of free throws from junior Alyssa Wright with 5:39 left in the fourth quarter. But Ashton fueled Morgan’s comeback by scoring 12 of her game-high 23 points down the stretch.
Cromwell then made 5 of 8 free throws in the final two minutes to maintain its advantage.
Junior forward Mya Villard powered Cromwell with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
“We knew we had it in us and everything came together,” said Villard, who scored 11 points in the second half. “We were ready. This is the game we wanted to play all year. It was redemption from last year. It can’t get any better than this.”
Villard’s low post hoop gave Cromwell an 18-16 halftime lead.
The Panthers took control in the third quarter. Reserve sophomore guard Nikki Bitinaitis made a sensational four-point play when she was fouled draining a long 3-pointer from the corner. Bitinaitis (eight points) made the free throw and Cromwell led 34-22 with 3:51 left in the third.
“Morgan’s a great team and it really comes down to the end with them,” Cromwell coach Kelly Maher said. “At some point you figure you have to break through. I was pleased with how we kept our composure down the stretch.”
Senior forward Jen Dawson had 13 points and junior forward Josie Sullivan chipped in eight points for Morgan (25-1).
“We just couldn’t get into any kind of flow offensively,” Morgan coach Joe Grippo said. “I don’t think we rebounded well and we didn’t do a lot of things that got us to this point. Cromwell’s a good basketball team. They jumped on us and put us in a hole and it’s tough to dig out of a hole against them. It hurts.”
Rojas finished with 11 points, while junior guard Emma Belcourt added 10 points, six rebounds and three assists.
“I couldn’t be happier for the kids to get back to the Mohegan Sun,” said Maher, who guided the Panthers to the Class M title in 2013. “They played hard and had a great year. They work hard every day in practice so I couldn’t be happier.”