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NEW HAVEN >> The last time Morgan won the Shoreline Conference girls basketball tournament, they did it with heavy hearts. On Friday night, there was nothing but pure joy. And a little relief.
Senior forward Jen Dawson scored a game-high 22 points, including the game winning free throw with 2.7 seconds left in overtime, as the Huskies ended Cromwell’s three-year championship reign with a thrilling 53-52 victory at Wilbur Cross High School.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these guys,” Morgan coach Joe Grippo said “Jen Dawson was just immense tonight. She carried us when things weren’t going our way. We had a great practice yesterday and I felt really comfortable coming into today. It couldn’t have happened to a better bunch of kids.”
It was the Huskies first SLC title since 2006. That year the Clinton community lost Ed Hidek, the Huskies assistant coach who passed away on the eve of the SLC tournament.
“I think about him every day I walk into a gym and about how much we had going with each other and everything else,” Grippo said. “It’s a pretty special Shoreline championship for us.”
Dawson grabbed 10 rebounds, while senior forward Kelsey Donaldson also powered the Huskies with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Morgan senior guard Tori Hopkins drained two huge 3-pointers in the second half and finished with eight points, and junior guard Sami Ashton chipped in seven points and seven assists while reaching the 1,000 career point milestone.
Cromwell junior guard Emma Belcourt poured in 17 points. Senior guard Nicole Rojas had 14 points, including a pair of clutch game-tying baskets at the end of regulation and overtime, and junior forward Mya Villard had 12 points for the second-seeded Panthers (19-4).
This was the third straight year Morgan and Cromwell have met in the finals and like the past two it was a classic barnburner from start to finish.
The Huskies trailed 39-34 late in the third quarter but Hopkins buried a trey and Dawson beat the buzzer with a low post hoop to tie it at 39.
Morgan never trailed in the fourth quarter and enjoyed its biggest lead, 48-43, after a Hopkins free throw with 50 seconds left.
But Cromwell junior forward Alyssa Wright converted a three-point play with seven seconds to go. After a Morgan turnover, Rojas, who scored the game winning basket in last year’s championship game, sent it into overtime with a driving layup with 1.5 seconds remaining.
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“I’m proud of my kids the way that they didn’t fold,” Cromwell coach Kelly Maher said. “They battled hard and didn’t give up and that’s a trait we want in our players. Every time we play Morgan it’s a great game and it comes right down to the end and that’s what it was. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way tonight. Morgan’s a great team. They deserve it.”
Dawson gave the top-seeded Huskies (22-0) a 50-48 lead with a pair of free throws, then Ashton, the SLC Player of the Year, drove through the lane for a layup and the Huskies had a 52-48 lead with 1:47 left.
Cromwell answered on a Villard put back and then Rojas was at it again, draining a jumper near the top of the key to tie it at 52 with only 19 seconds remaining.
“They battled and we battled,” Hopkins said. “We know each other’s defenses and offenses like the back of our hands at this point. So it was just a grind out to the end. It feels great.”
With two seconds left, Dawson got the ball in the low post and was fouled. She made the first one and missed the second. But Cromwell didn’t have time to get a final shot off.
“I tried not to think about the free throws,” Dawson said. “I took a deep breath. I knew I just had to make one and I just wanted to get it done in my senior year.”
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