NEW HAVEN >> Cromwell junior guard Nicole Rojas converted a driving layup with 5 seconds left to cap one the wildest finishes in Shoreline Conference tournament history and the Panthers captured their third straight league title with a 41-40 overtime victory against Morgan Friday night at Wilbur Cross High School.
“I give credit to these kids,” said Cromwell coach Kelly Maher. “They refused to lose tonight.
No matter what it was, they played harder with each and every possession. I couldn’t be happier with the way they came back to win this game tonight.”
No. 2 Morgan (18-5), which led by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter, had just taken a 40-39 lead on a daring, left-handed layup in the lane by junior guard Tori Hopkins.
With Cromwell seniors Janelle Harrison and Emily Appleby watching on the sidelines after fouling out, Rojas took the ball in the backcourt and made a dash for the ages, weaving through the Morgan defense for the game-winning layup.
“That was crazy,” said Rojas, a Mercy transfer who sat out the first 10 games of the season. “I didn’t even know what I was thinking. It all seemed like a dream to me. I was just trying to make a basket. I’m so proud of my team.”
Harrison, the two-time SLC Player of the Year, scored of seven of her 11 points in the fourth quarter while the Panthers were mounting their comeback from a 28-19 deficit.
Cromwell, which trailed at halftime, 16-12, as well as the whole second half, got back into the game with a ferocious, full-court trapping defense.
The top-seeded Panthers (22-1) finally got even at 34-34 after Appleby drained a 3-pointer with 1:09 left and then added 1 of 2 free throws with 23 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
“I knew that’s what we needed and I had confidence in my shot,” said Appleby. “A lot of people doubted us but we’re a great team and we deserved it.”
Alyssa Wright’s corner jumper gave Cromwell a 36-34 lead but Hopkins (10 points) tied it with a pair of free throws.
Mya Villard (10 points) added a pair of free throws to make it 38-36. But Morgan responded again, getting two clutch free throws from junior Jen Dawson, who had a game-high 13 points, that tied it at 38 with 54 seconds left.
A Rojas (five points) steal and subsequent free throw gave the Panthers a 39-38 lead with 29 seconds to go, setting the stage for the last second heroics from Hopkins and Rojas.
Sami Ashton had seven points and Josie Sullivan added six points for Morgan, which also lost to Cromwell in last year’s final.
“We didn’t finish the game,” said Morgan coach Joe Grippo. “We gave up some easy baskets to Harrison and we were careless with the ball. I just don’t understand why at the end of the game guys didn’t want the ball in their hands. It’s more than tough, it’s a game we should have won.”
This was Cromwell’s fourth SLC championship in the past five seasons.
“These kids have had a great career and for Janelle and Emily to win three in a row…that’s a credit to them. They’re a great group of kids,” said Maher.
CROMWELL 41, MORGAN 40
Morgan 6 10 10 8 6 – 40
Cromwell 8 4 7 15 7 -41
Jen Dawson 2 8-10 13, Sami Ashton 2 3-6 7, Josie Sullivan 1 4-4 6, Kelsey Donaldson 1 0-0 2, Lily Dawson 1 0-0 2, Riley Smith 0 0-0 0, Tori Hopkins 3 3-4 10. Totals: 10 18-24 40
Janelle Harrison 4 3-8 11, Mya Villard 4 2-6 10, Alyssa Wright 2 3-4 7, Nicole Rojas 1 3-4 5, Emma Belcourt 2 0-4 4, Emily Appleby 1 1-2 4, Araya Lessard 0 0-0 0, Nikki Bitinitis 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 12-28 41
3-point goals: Morgan 2 (Dawson 1, Hopkins 1); Cromwell 1 (Appleby 1); Fouled out: Morgan (Donaldson, Sullivan); Cromwell (Harrison, Appleby); Records: Morgan 18-5; Cromwell 22-1
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