ECC girls' basketball championship games will feature a pair of rematches

Feb. 19—Stonington played last season at Mohegan Sun Arena for the first time in program history, winning the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division II tournament girls' basketball championship.

"Most of my players were there last year and I think it inspired them to return," Stonington coach Paulla Solar said.

The other three teams which participated in last season's championship games were also apparently inspired to return.

Both ECC championship games scheduled for Tuesday night are rematches. In Division II, No. 1 Stonington meets No. 2 Windham at 6 p.m. and in Division I, No. 1 New London faces No. 6 Ledyard at 8 p.m. New London is the two-time defending champion of the tournament, having beaten Ledyard 65-39 last year, while Stonington took the 2023 title 40-31 over Windham.

"We are very excited to get back to Mohegan Sun," Solar said of Stonington, 15-7, which advanced to the title game with a 47-26 semifinal win Saturday over No. 4 St. Bernard. "It's a wonderful experience and memory. ... This group has really started playing as a team and contributing in so many ways."

The Bears split with Windham during the regular season, falling 66-40 on Dec. 15 and winning 53-42 on Jan. 24 behind 16 points, 12 rebounds and five steals from Rory Risley. Risley was named the Most Outstanding Player of last season's title game at Mohegan Sun.

Perhaps the team that's making the most unexpected appearance in the final is Ledyard (13-9). The Colonels were previously 0-3 this season against the two teams they've upset in the Division I tournament, No. 3 Norwich Free Academy and No. 2 Bacon Academy, and they trailed Saturday's ECC semifinal against Bacon 40-24 at halftime.

Adrianna Hardison had 29 points for Ledyard in the comeback, senior Cassie Rice made three second-half 3-pointers and freshman Olivea Shelton had 11 points and seven rebounds. Ledyard took the lead for good at 53-51 on a 3-pointer by Hardison with 5 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the midst of a 12-1 run.

"lt's all about making strides and I feel like that's what we were doing," Ledyard coach Mike Morgan said. "I never panicked throughout the season, even when we lost some of those big games. It was really just getting hot at the right time.

"For some reason, we always pull together at playoff time. I don't know what happens, what shifts, but all of the sudden we just get tight. Girls who haven't been playing much all year came out. Olivea Shelton, she came out the last few games and absolutely played amazing."

New London (18-4) defeated No. 4 Fitch 50-41 in the second game, getting 22 points, six steals and four assists from freshman point guard Jaidelis Rivera and 19 points and 12 rebounds from junior Serenity Lancaster.

"She's matured very quickly into a probably second-year (player), sophomore, she's not playing like a freshman," New London coach Tammy Millsaps said of Rivera.

The Whalers won the ECC Division I tournament and the Class MM state championship at Mohegan Sun last year but graduated The Day's All-Area Player of the Year in Nalyce Dudley, now at Division I Sacred Heart University.

New London also played at the Sun earlier this season, topping E.O. Smith 50-46 in The Day Holiday Classic in what was then a matchup against two of the state's top 10.

"All of our kids, we've got a young team. We're doing very well for such a young team," Millsaps said. "When you go to Mohegan Sun and play under the lights, it's an opportunity for kids to absorb that environment and play a quality basketball game, so the kids are looking forward to that."