UNCASVILLE >> It has been an uphill climb for New London. The Whalers won just two games two years ago, and fell in the first round of the state tournament last season.
On Sunday, they found themselves playing for a Class M championship.
With fifth-seeded New London up 50-33 with less than six minutes to play, Morgan went on a ferocious 19-3 run. But the Whalers edged the sixth-seeded Huskies 57-52 to escape with the Class M state title at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Even though the Whalers saw their lead diminish, senior Lexus Childs-Harris says she wasn’t worried, although she was very happy to hear the final buzzer.
“Crazy relief,” she said. “I was like, ‘Ah, we did it!’”
The Whalers (22-3) lost in the Eastern Connecticut Conference title game after winning 13 straight games during the regular season. Coach Kerrianne Dugan, who took over last season, said the turnaround was due in part to keeping things loose.
“It’s a good balance between discipline and fun,” she said. “The girls know they can come to me for anything, we can have a good time. But when it’s time to work, it’s time to work.”
Morgan coach Joe Grippo said he was proud of his team’s effort in the comeback attempt.
“We needed the game to be called a little closer,” he said. (New London) is a physical group of kids. I give them a lot of credit for getting the win, but we’ll be back.”
Morgan (20-5) had four players reach double digits in scoring as Sami Ashton had 16, Jen Dawson had 14 and Tori Hopkins and Josie Sullivan added 10 apiece. Dawson also had 10 rebounds.
New London got 16 points and 11 rebounds from Charee Osborne, 12 from Jada Lucas, 10 from both Deanna McCarvell and Childs-Harris and nine from India Pagan, who also had a game-high 13 rebounds.
The Whalers’ size bothered Morgan all game. New London outrebounded the Huskies 27-19 on the defensive glass and outscored Morgan 18-6 on second-chance points.
“Their physical presence is so incredible, we just couldn’t deny them the ball,” Grippo said.
New London was able to take a seemingly comfortable 17-point lead early in the fourth quarter before Morgan turned a laugher into a one-point thriller. New London looked out of sorts during the run, missing free throws and seeing its lead shrink to 53-52.
“That was a pretty scary moment,” Pagan said. “We knew we could pull it through.”
The Whalers played strong defense and made four free throws down the stretch to hold off Morgan and capture the Class M title, a feat that was nothing more than a pipe dream just two years ago.
“My freshman and sophomore year, I would never think we were going to be here,” Child-Harris said. “My junior year we went 10-10. I said ‘OK, can we really pull it off?’ My senior year, we pulled it off. It’s just crazy.”
NEW LONDON 57, MORGAN 52
Morgan 9 10 13 20 – 52
New London 10 17 19 11 – 57
Sami Ashton 5 6-11 16, Tori Hopkins 3 2-2 10, Josie Sullivan 4 2-2 10, Jen Dawson 6 2-3 14, Kelsey Donaldson 1 0-0 2, Lily Dawson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 12-18 52
NEW LONDON (57)
Deanna McCarvell 3 2-2 10, Jada Lucas 2 7-10 12, Lexus Childs-Harris 3 4-6 10, India Pagan 3 3-5 9, Charee Osborne 6 4-6 16. Totals: 17 20-29 57
3-point goals: Morgan 2 (Hopkins 2); New London 3 (McCarvell 2, Lucas 1); Records: Morgan 20-5; New London 22-3