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MIDDLETOWN >> Cromwell’s quest for its third consecutive Shoreline Conference girls basketball championship – and fourth title in five years – begins tomorrow when the top-seeded Panthers host No. 8 Westbrook in the SLC tournament quarterfinals.
Saturday’s other quarterfinal matchups include No. 7 Lyme-Old Lyme at No. 2 Morgan, No. 6 Old Saybrook at No. 3 Coginchaug, and No. 5 East Hampton at No. 4 Haddam-Killingworth.
Defending Class M champion Cromwell (19-1) enters the tournament with an 18-game winning streak and it’s going to take a Herculean effort for someone to dethrone the Panthers, who have also won 47 of their last 48 contests.
“We probably do have a target on our backs, but we don’t mind it,” said Cromwell coach Kelly Maher. “It’s really the beginning of a new season. For us, it’s about taking care of what we need to do and not worrying about other teams. Whoever can put three good performances together is going to win the Shoreline tournament.”
The SLC tourney has traditionally been a springboard to the state tournament. A SLC girls basketball team has reached the state finals in six straight seasons, winning four banners – Cromwell (2013), Coginchaug (2012), Portland (2011) and Old Lyme (2009).
“That’s pretty impressive for a small league,” Maher added. “This tournament, and the whole tourney atmosphere, really does get teams ready for states.”
The semifinals will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at Coginchaug High School in Durham. The doubleheader will feature the Old Lyme/Morgan winner versus the Old Saybrook/Coginchaug winner at 6 p.m.; followed by the Westbrook/Cromwell winner versus the East Hampton/Haddam-Killingworth winner at 7:45 p.m.
The All-Shoreline Conference teams will be recognized between games.
The championship game will be on Friday, Feb. 28 at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
Here is a look at Saturday’s (Feb. 22) quarterfinal round matchups.
No. 8 Westbrook (10-10, 8-9 SLC) at No. 1 Cromwell (19-1, 17-1 SLC), 7 p.m.
The teams met in the season opener with the Panthers topping the Knights, 56-26.
Westbrook coach Bill Bernard, now in his fourth season after a long career at Wheeler, has the Knights in the state tournament for the first time since 2002 when Emily Hardy led them to the Class S semifinals.
The Knights finished strong, winning five of their last six, including wins over East Hampton and Old Lyme.
Bernard’s bunch has some experience. Seniors Robin Schreck, Jessica Forrest and Jordyn Shamus are three-year starters. Senior guard McKenna Atkinson and junior transfer Angelina Raffone have solidified the backcourt, and freshman forward Adara Bochanis has been a great addition for the Knights.
The Panthers, who are ranked No. 10 n the Register Top 10 poll, defeated Morgan, 44-33, in last year’s final.
Seniors Janelle Harrison, the reigning SLC Player of the Year who will play for Jen Rizzotti at Hartford next year, and point guard Emily Appleby have done a terrific job mentoring a young team.
Sophomore Mya Villard has been a dominant post presence, while sophomores Alyssa Wright, Emma Belcourt and Araya Lessard have all had great moments this season. And the play of junior transfer Nicole Rojas, who sat out the first 10 games, has given the Panthers a huge boost down the stretch.
No. 7 Lyme-Old Lyme (11-9, 9-8 SLC) at No. 2 Morgan (16-4, 15-3 SLC), 7 p.m.
This is an old school Shoreline matchup that recalls the glory days when the Huskies and the Fillion sisters would meet the Calli Coffee led Wildcats almost every year with the SLC title at stake.
Morgan played in 11 of 12 SLC championship games from 1994 to 2006, winning 7 league titles.
The Huskies, the only team to defeat Cromwell this season, have a great chance to win their first SLC title since 2006.
Sophomore Sami Ashton and junior Tori Hopkins are one of the top backcourts in Class S, and Morgan’s terrific frontline of sophomore Josie Sullivan, and juniors Jen Dawson and Kelsey Donaldson can pose matchup problems against most teams, including the Panthers. (Cromwell edged the Huskies, 49-47, in a rematch on Feb. 6.)
The young Wildcats, who lost at Morgan (52-27) on Jan. 27, will be led by senior Hannah Behringer and sophomore Sloane Sweitzer.
No. 6 Old Saybrook (12-8, 11-7 SLC) at No. 3 Coginchaug (14-6, 13-5 SLC), 6 p.m.
Kim Romanoff, Morgan Kuehnle and the rest of the Blue Devils seniors are only two years removed from winning a state championship and they’ll bring that experience into this matchup.
This will be Coginchaug coach Nick Economopoulos’ first foray in the SLC tournament.
Romanoff is one of the league’s top point guards, while Kuehnle is a premier rebounder and defender. They, along with senior center Caryn Sibiskie, junior forward Naomi Rinaldo, junior forward Audrey Arcari, and senior bench specialists Alison Luther, Katelyn Williams and Sydney Trusty are an athletic group who could make some noise in this tourney.
A win here and the Blue Devils will have the home court advantage in the semifinals.
Coginchaug won at Old Saybrook (47-39) on Jan. 7 but the Rams took the rematch, 51-43, in Durham on Feb. 10.
Rams senior Mia Neas, the conference’s leading scorer (23 ppg), has been sensational at both ends of the floor this season, while senior guard Liz Marshall is an outside shooting threat.
No. 5 East Hampton (13-7, 11-6 SLC) at No. 4 Haddam-Killingworth (14-6, 13-5 SLC), 7 p.m.
H-K reached the Class M semifinals for the first time in school history a year ago and expectations were high this season. The Cougars got off to a great 7-2 start with signature wins against Morgan and Class LL Hand, along with a three-point loss against Cromwell.
Things changed, however, in Durham on Jan. 14 when senior center Kiley Anderson, the Cougars leading scorer and rebounder, suffered a season-ending back injury in a loss against Coginchaug.
Since then, H-K has rallied around the play of seniors Maya Savino and Lauren McCann, juniors Halie Serbent, Caroline Fortuna and Jess Kasper, and freshman Brinley Anderson, Kiley’s younger sister.
“I can’t be any more proud of this team,” said H-K coach Jim Bombaci, who won his 500th career game this season. “They never gave up and they play their hearts out every night.”
The Cougars won at East Hampton, 43-41, on Jan. 17.
East Hampton coach Shaun Russell, who led the Bellringers to consecutive SLC titles in 2007 and 2008, guided another young team this season.
The Bellringers, who got off to an 8-1 start, had a terrific season behind the play of sophomores Meghan Orbann, Sarah Massie, Renee Radavich, and Morgan Slossberg, junior Leah Coughlin, freshman Gyanna Russell, and seniors Megan Close and Taryn McCabe.