Earlier in this decade, it did seem like it was Mercy’s birthright to play in the Class LL girls basketball state championship game at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Four straight years, the Tigers reached the final game, losing three straight before beating Lauralton Hall in 2013 on a game-winning shot reminiscent of the one Bryce Drew hit for Valparaiso in the NCAA tournament two decades ago.
But despite the success Mercy has had more recently, the program has fallen short of reaching that championship final — until this season. The second-seeded Tigers take on No. 5 Hall in the Class LL final at 6:15 p.m. at the Sun.
“It’s a monumental task to get there. There are a lot of quality teams in Class LL,” Mercy coach Tim Kohs said.
Mercy is one of three Middletown-area teams attempting to win state championships Saturday. No. 9 seed Coginchaug squares off against No. 10 SMSA for the Class S state girls final while No. 3 Cromwell faces No. 4 Wamogo in the Division V boys final at 12:30 p.m.
Mercy is one of the state’s most successful girls’ programs. The Tigers have reached at least the state semifinals in nine of the past 13 years.
This season, Mercy (26-1) dominated the Southern Connecticut Conference, losing just the one game to Career, a Class M state finalist. Kohs also loaded up the non-conference schedule with teams like Norwich Free Academy, Notre Dame-Fairfield and Bishop Guertin, New Hampshire.
Kohs’ big concern that other than two games, each win was a blowout.
“We’ve played fairly well all year,” Kohs said. “I thought we would have a few more (close games).”
Mercy features post player Meghan DeVille and point guard Bella Santoro, seniors who have been nearly impossible for opponents to stop for years.
“We’ve always been more perimeter-oriented in the past,” Kohs said. “Mohegan is a hard place to shoot at. We are more balanced than we have been in the past. DeVille has been playing unbelievably well and half of Santoro’s points are her getting to the basket.”
Coginchaug (21-6) was the runner-up in the Shoreline Conference tournament, falling to Cromwell in overtime. That helped fuel the Blue Devils’ run to their first finals appearance since 2012.
The Blue Devils held their first three opponents in the state tournament to 30 or fewer points, then came from behind to defeat Weaver in the semifinals.
“Our goal is to go there and bring home a state championship. Anything less than that is going to be a failure in my eyes,” Coginchaug coach Chris Watson told CT Sports Now following the win over Weaver. “I’m so pumped that we are there, but when we get there, we’re not just going to be happy. It’s going to be business.”
It’s a business-like atmosphere for Cromwell, too, returning to Mohegan for the first time since 2009. The Panthers (20-4) won 13 straight games at one point, reaching the Shoreline tournament final.
“I think it’s important to the town,” said Cromwell coach John Pinone. “To me it was important to get back to the finals because we have been knocking on the door. It keeps our streak of every decade getting to a final (beginning in 1967).”
Cromwell faces Wamogo, the Berkshire League tournament champion and the only team to beat East Hampton in the semifinals. Cromwell lost to East Hampton twice.