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DURHAM >> The Morgan girls basketball team advanced to the Shoreline Conference championship game for the second straight year with a hard fought 41-34 victory over Coginchaug Tuesday night at Durham.
Morgan will play top-seeded Cromwell (21-1) in a rematch of last year’s final on Friday at Wilbur Cross High School.
The Panthers defeated No. 4 Haddam-Killingworth, 58-42, in the other semifinal.
The second-seeded Huskies, who led 32-30 with 1:42 left in the fourth quarter, survived by making 8 of 9 free throws down the stretch.
Junior guard Tori Hopkins (nine points) sank six straight free throws with under a minute left to keep Morgan ahead. The Huskies made 16 of 20 overall from the foul line, while the Blue Devils connected on just 7 of 15.
“When you have moments and opportunities to win the game you need some people to step up and we did that tonight,” said Morgan coach Joe Grippo. “This was our third time playing them so you knew it was going to be a grind it out type of game and I was proud of the way we stepped up.”
Morgan led 17-14 at halftime. The game see-sawed in the third quarter with Coginchaug grabbing a 23-22 lead on a 3-pointer from senior Audrey Arcari with 3:42 left.
The Huskies responded by closing out the quarter with a 7-0 run, highlighted by a pair of fastbreak layups from sophomore guard Sami Ashton and a patented 3-pointer from Hopkins.
Junior Jen Dawson (eight points) gave the Huskies their biggest lead at 31-23 on a low post hoop with 4:16 left to play and it was an uphill battle for the third-seeded Blue Devils the rest of the way.
“We’ve had trouble closing the deal this year,” said Coginchaug coach Nick Economopoulos.”We’ve had three cracks at Morgan this year and we haven’t reached the 40 point barrier. It’s frustrating.”
Senior Caryn Sibiskie and junior Naomi Rinaldo each had eight points, while senior Morgan Kuehnle scored seven points for the Blue Devils (15-7).
Ashton finished with a game-high 10 points, Josie Sullivan scored seven points and senior Lily Dawson came off the bench and had six key points for Morgan (18-4).
“I’m just real excited to get back to the finals for the second year in a row,” said Ashton. “I’d like to get it done this time.”
Cromwell 58, Haddam-Killingworth 42 >> Defense wins championships and it doesn’t get any better than Cromwell’s fourth quarter performance against Haddam-Killingworth Tuesday night in the Shoreline Conference semifinals.
The top-seeded Panthers blanked the No. 4 Cougars 15-0 over the final eight minutes en route to wrapping up a spot in the conference title game.
“We picked it up defensively and with defense comes easier offense and I thought that’s what happened tonight,” said Cromwell coach Kelly Maher. “We played tough defense, especially in that fourth quarter. That’s what’s going to carry you through.”
Cromwell (21-1), who are the two-time defending league champions, will meet No. 2 Morgan (18-4) in a rematch of last year’s final on Friday at Wilbur Cross High School. The Huskies defeated No. 3 Coginchaug, 41-34, in the other semifinal.
“It’s always a battle with Morgan,” said Maher. “They’re a great team and they’ve had a great year. It should be another fun night.”
H-K (15-7) built a 21-11 lead in the first quarter behind the 3-point shooting of senior guard Maya Savino, who sank two treys, and junior Caroline Fortuna, who buried a corner three.
The Cougars maintained their advantage in the second quarter and led 28-23 at intermission.
“It’s tournament time and you’ve got to expect everyone’s best game,” said Maher. “I was pleased with the way we settled down and kept our composure.”
Senior guard Emily Appleby (10 points) got the Panthers rolling with five quick points, including a trey, in the opening minute of the second half. The game went back and forth in the third quarter with Cromwell leading 43-42 at the end of the period.
Senior Janelle Harrison, the SLC Player of the Year, scored 16 points, including 11 in the second half. Junior guard Nicole Rojas had 11 points and sophomore Mya Villard added 10 points for Cromwell, which has won 20 straight and is ranked No. 9 in the New Haven Register Top 10 poll.
H-K, which battled through a slew of injuries in the second half, was led by senior forward Lauren McCann, who netted 16 points. Savino finished with 11 points, while junior Halie Serbent chipped in six points.
“I don’t know what it is about this gym,” said H-K coach Jim Bombaci. “We lost Kiley (Anderson) here and tonight we had two sprained ankles, a wrist and an eye injury. I don’t like excuses, (Cromwell) deserved to win. But it finally all caught up to us. To have all that happen to you, and your kids still keep playing hard, I’m very proud of them.”