UNCASVILLE >> The feeling of losing to St. Joseph in last season’s Class M championship was an experience Cromwell would never forget.
This year’s trip to the final is something the Panthers will always remember.
Senior Emma Belcourt scored a game-high 11 points as top-seeded Cromwell cruised past No. 11 Notre Dame-Fairfield 43-20 to win the Class M state championship Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Panthers, who entered the state tournament ranked No. 2 in the Register Poll, finished 28-0. It was the second title in four seasons for Cromwell.
“It (last year) was a loss, obviously, none of us will forget,” Belcourt said. “Even after winning this, it’s a loss that’s still going to be in my heart. But it’s one of those things that we pushed for all year and it was in the back of our minds. We weren’t losing this year.”
The Panthers also defeated Notre Dame to win the title in 2013 when the current seniors were freshmen. That team also finished unbeaten. Cromwell has reached the final four times since 2011.
“It feels good; no better feeling,” Cromwell senior Mya Villard said. “To finish my senior year 28-0, it’s just amazing.”
The Panthers’ senior class ended their careers with a record of 104-7. They played in four Shoreline Conference tournament championship games, wining three, and reached a state final three times.
“We’ve been really successful,” Villard said. “To come here last year and lose, it sticks with you forever. This year, we made it our mission to come out here and win — 28-0, with a state championship. Can’t get any better than that.”
Villard finished with six points and four rebounds. Fellow senior Araya Lessard added eight points and three rebounds, while senior Alyssa Wright dished out a game-high six assists.
The Cromwell defense forced 17 turnovers, including 11 in a first half in which the Panthers led 21-11 at the intermission.
“Cromwell was clearly the better team tonight,” Notre Dame coach Eric DeMarco said. “I think that a lot of it (the turnovers) was Cromwell’s defense. I said to the coaches at the end of the game that they did to us what we’ve been able to do to a couple of teams in terms of locking down. They’ve been here before. They’ve been on the big stage. They’re undefeated for a reason.”
Notre Dame senior Taylor Ceballos and junior Dayniera Artis each picked up two fouls in the first quarter and did not play the rest of the half. The 6-foot Ceballos finished with five points and five rebounds.
“It was a 10-point lead at halftime, but it could’ve been a little bit closer if we had got a couple of shots to fall,” DeMarco said. “I kind of felt like we were in a good place.”
The Panthers outscored the Lancers 14-6 in the third quarter to take a 30-16 lead. Gabby Joseph scored a team-high eight points for Notre Dame (21-7).
The Lancers, who won this year’s SWC tournament title, are now 0-6 in state finals.
Cromwell coach Kelly Maher was particularly proud of her team’s defensive effort.
“I couldn’t be happier tonight,” Maher said. “We’ve been working on that all year, it was something that we had to get better at. We knew we had to be tough defensively tonight to stop them. We had to come out strong and we had to get the stops.”
CROMWELL 43, NOTRE DAME-FAIRFIELD 20
Notre Dame-Fairfield 5 6 5 4 – 20
Cromwell 7 14 9 13 – 43
NOTRE DAME-FAIRFIELD (20)
Daynera Artis 0 0-0 0, Whitney Fulton 0 0-0 0, Precious Montgomery 0 0-0 0, Gabby Joseph 4 0-0 8, Neya Vereen 0 0-0 0, Brooke McCone 1 0-0 3, Taylor Ceballos 2 1-2 5, Zuquila Mbachiantim 1 1-4 3, Raina Ceryak 0 1-2 1. Totals: 8 3-8 20
Emma Belcourt 4 1-2 11, Nikki Britinaitis 2 1-2 5, Araya Lessard 4 0-0 8, Mya Villard 1 4-4 6, Jenna Serrantino 0 0-0 0, Ashley DellaRatta 0 0-0 0, Erika Cantarella 0 0-0 0, Kelsea Corcoran 0 0-0 0, Geanna Williams 1 2-2 4, Theresa Quinn 2 0-1 5, Alyssa Wright 2 0-0 4. Totals: 16 8-11 43
3-point goals: Notre Dame-Fairfield 1 (McCone 1); Cromwell 3 (Belcourt 2, Quinn 1); Records: Notre Dame-Fairfield 21-7; Cromwell 28-0