South Windsor Outlasts NFA to Advance to LL Finals

GLASTONBURY-Throughout their outstanding season, South Windsor has displayed excellent mental toughness. It helped the team go undefeated in the regular season and advance to Monday night’s Class LL semifinal against Norwich Free Academy. In a game that won’t soon be forgotten, that mental toughness was on display in the final minutes.

The top-seeded Bobcats made clutch plays on both sides of the ball in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter to pull out a 54-51 win over fourth-seeded NFA at Glastonbury High School.

The Bobcats (27-1) led the Wildcats (25-2) 44-32 midway through the third quarter. NFA wasn’t prepared to go quietly however. It clamped down on defense, holding South Windsor scoreless for the remainder of the third, and went on a 7-0 run to cut the Bobcats lead to 44-39 at quarter’s end.

South Windsor’s offensive struggles continued at the beginning of the fourth. A steal and layup by Cebria Outlow put NFA within one at 46-45 with 4:23 remaining and caused South Windsor coach Don Leclerc to call a timeout. In that situation, some teams would let the game slip away. Not this one.

Molly Murphy made the first of the Bobcats clutch plays when she drained a three pointer from the left corner with 3:30 remaining, giving the team a 49-45 lead. NFA didn’t back down, as a putback by Hailey Conloy tied the score at 49 with 2:07 remaining. Again, the Bobcats had a response. They quickly pushed the ball up the floor and senior Sara Jackson did the rest. She hit a gorgeous under-handed scoop shot and was fouled, and made the free throw to give South Windsor a three-point lead.

Following this pair of baskets, it was time for the defense to step up. After an NFA free throw made the score 52-50 with 1:34 left, the Bobcats pressure forced a Wildcats turnover on their following possession. Outlow immediately returned the favor with a steal and it appeared she was going to score an easy layup, but Amy McConnell raced down the floor and denied her from behind. Sharon Bell’s missed shot off the inbound pass led to another NFA turnover.

After South Windsor missed the front end of a one-and-one, NFA got the ball into the paint, but the Bobcats forced three missed shots. Outlow was fouled and made one of two with 16.5 seconds left to make it 52-51. Teammate Mackenzie Burke stole an inbounds pass, but NFA missed a shot and Murphy snatched the rebound. She was immediately fouled and calmly drained two three throws with 6.2 remaining. NFA missed a last second three, setting off a wild South Windsor celebration.

Leclerc and McConnell both credited the team’s mental toughness for its execution down the stretch.

“We practice and preach that we’re going to experience a lot of pressure at times and that we need to be able to stay focused and composed,” Leclerc said. “We pride ourselves on not losing our mental focus. Down the stretch, we made the plays when it mattered most.”

“We focus on mental toughness a lot, and that’s how we won today and in the previous game against Greenwich,” McConnell said.

McConnell also praised South Windsor’s work on the boards in the final minutes.

“We had some big rebounds and boxing out was what sealed things in the end. We had to get a rebound to get to the line, and Molly was able to get one and make the free throws.”

After a back and forth first quarter, a 14-0 run helped gave the Bobcats a 31-18 lead with three minutes remaining in the second and a 37-27 advantage at halftime. McConnell and senior guard Lauren Biancardi propelled the offense in the half, scoring 16 and 10 points respectively. The offense used its speed to obtain open shots and penetrate the paint against a taller NFA squad.

“We were definitely focused on pushing the ball and playing fast since that’s the way we like to play. We try to use our speed to score against bigger teams, and that’s what we did today,” McConnell said.

McConnell led South Windsor with 21 points, going 10-10 from the charity stripe. Murphy and Biancardi both scored 10. Olivia Lane led NFA with 15 points.

While Leclerc was proud of the Bobcats late game execution, he believes that they played inconsistently on both offense and defense.

“As a defensive coach, I’m frustrated we gave up 51. We got a little careless with our shot selection, and that’s uncharacteristic of us. We need to correct these things to make our goal complete in the next game,” he said.

South Windsor will play second-seeded Wilton in the Class LL final this weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena. The date and time of the game has yet to be announced. South Windsor lost to Lauralton Hall in last season’s championship, and they’ve been driven all year to return and leave as champions.

We know what it feels like to be there and what it takes to win, as well as what it feels like to not come away with what you want,” Leclerc said. “Our team has been doubted all season long, and they’re out to prove they’re one of the best teams in Connecticut. Wilton has the same goal. I expect one heck of a game.”

“It’s a great feeling to make it. This is what we’ve worked for all year,” McConnell said. “We reached our goal of returning, and now we need to work hard in practice this week to prepare and stay humble and not get ahead of ourselves. We’re confident.”

South Windsor celebrates  advancing to the Class LL championship game.

South Windsor celebrates advancing to the Class LL championship game.

Lauren Biancardi nails a jumper over a defender.

Lauren Biancardi nails a jumper over a defender.

Alex Goslin displays her customary outstanding defensive pressure.

Alex Goslin displays her customary outstanding defensive pressure.

Molly Murphy gets free of a defender before setting up a teammate for a basket. Murphy's 10 points helped South Windsor to a 54-51 win.

Molly Murphy gets free of a defender before setting up a teammate for a basket. Murphy’s 10 points helped South Windsor to a 54-51 win.

 

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