Enfield Upsets Top-Seeded New London

By Danny Atkinson

NEW LONDON-When Enfield lost CCSU-bound star Danielle Delano to injury at the beginning of the regular season (she just returned), the possibility of the Eagles finally winning an elusive state championship seemed to become much less realistic. Even after the team had an outstanding regular season, going 16-4, it was not favored to win the recent CCC Conference Tournament and earned just a number 8 seed in the Class LL Tournament. However, 2018 has been a season of defying expectations for Enfield, and that’s been especially true during tourney time.

Following the Eagles thrilling run to the CCC Championship, they easily dispatched of Fairfield Ludlowe and No. 9 Notre Dame-Fairfield to set up Monday night’s LL quarterfinal matchup with top-seeded and undefeated New London, last season’s state champions and the winners of 33 consecutive games. After losing by 21 to the Whalers in last season’s tournament with Delano at full strength, Enfield entered a hostile road environment as significant undergrounds. Despite this, its players displayed no doubts or nerves. Instead, they outfought, outhustled, and ultimately outlasted the top-ranked squad in the state.

After being tied at 27 at halftime, the No. 8 Eagles (23-4) went on an early second-half run and maintained the lead for the entire 16 minutes, going on to win 69-61. They ultimately controlled the paint on both ends against the Whalers (25-1) formidable front line, and made timely outside shots. In a highly physical and back-and-forth contest, Enfield and especially its guards constantly got to the free throw line, ultimately making 26 shots to New London’s 14 on 39 attempts. EHS scored the most points by far of any Whalers opponent this season, whose defense entered allowing just under 31 points per game.

“We were seen as the underdog. Everyone counted us out this year after we lost Danielle,” Enfield head coach Jay Gaucher said. The other girls stepped up big for us though, and now we have her back. As the underdog, I think the girls came in with a chip on their shoulder. For them, we got embarrassed last year in the semis by New London, who put it to us, so I think that was a little bit of fuel to the fire too. The girls have also been in a lot of big basketball games, so I think that helped them in tonight’s environment.”

“This game was definitely revenge for us after last year’s tournament, right after we got revenge against Hall,” junior guard Kaitlyn Bourque said. “It feels good.”

The Eagles will face rival and No. 5 Hall (21-4) in the LL semifinals Friday at a site to be determined. They defeated Hall 60-49 in the CCC Tournament championship last Friday. Hall defeated Simsbury on Monday.

Senior forward Mary Baskerville continued to be a double-double machine against New London, finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds despite foul trouble. Senior guard Cat Fonseca led Enfield with 23 points, going 10-10 from the free throw line. Junior guard Cassandra Urso scored 10, and Bourque had nine, finishing 8-9 at the charity stripe.

Led by the Providence-bound Baskerville, the Eagles went on an 11-0 run to start the third quarter, taking a 38-27 lead at 4:17. Their lead would eventually grow as large as 14, before New London cut it to 10 at the end. The 11-0 run began with an opening possession three by Fonseca, who was found wide open in the left corner. From there, it quickly became the Mary Baskerville show on offense, with the 6-3 star scoring eight consecutive points. She scored two quick baskets off pinpoint passes by teammates, with the first coming on a fast break. At the 3:28 mark, Baskerville was again found on the block, giving Enfield a nine-point advantage, and finally concluded the run with a pair of free throws. Baskerville displayed her ability to outmaneuver defenders with her athleticism and overpower them using her strength-with the help of some great ball movement from teammates.

“Offensively, we moved Mary up a little bit so she could get stuck  behind the ball around the backboard, and we were able to get her a few shots, and then we had a few big threes that opened up the inside,” Gaucher said.

Bourque discussed her team’s approach on offense during this 11-0 run and throughout the third.

“We were able to slow them down and played our game,” she said. “I would describe that as working the ball around, getting it in, getting it out, and we were able to get baskets.”

As Gaucher stated when talking about the third, the Eagles tight and aggressive defensive in the eight minutes led to their offensive success and ability to take control of the contest. The defenders forced multiple turnovers and challenged nearly every shot, while also significantly improving their rebounding. The perimeter defense continued its excellent first half performance, playing highly aggressively and not allowing New London to move the ball inside-out.

Multiple examples of defense that led to offense included a steal on the fast break Baskerville scored on, a steal by Baskerville which set up a layup for Fonseca, and a Whalers charge which led to Fonseca hitting a gorgeous floater. The basket put her team up 46-32, the Eagles largest lead of the game.

“I think we played really well against their guards and stopped their momentum,” Fonseca said about the defense. “We were definitely in their faces and quick.”

New London did not go quietly in the fourth. Following a three from Urso which put Enfield up 49-36, Baskerville had to go back to the bench following two fouls. Two Whalers free throws and a layup finally cut the deficit to single digits at 50-41 with 5:35 to go. As the game got more physical, the Whalers made a small run, as a pinpoint three by guard Leilani McClellan and two free throws from guard Rosalee Nicholson cut Enfield’s lead to 57-53 with 3:37 remaining.

In the final three minutes however, the Eagles buckled down and secured the upset, with almost all the baskets coming at the line, similar to the second quarter. The offense did an outstanding job moving the ball and taking it to the basket, and the Whalers were forced to foul on every possession. Enfield ultimately hit 13 free throws in the fourth, with seven made by Fonseca. By the end of the game, Nicholson and forwards Taina Pagan and K.D. Spencer Roman fouled out. The defense also played very well in the final minutes, controlling the boards and forcing multiple turnovers.

Gaucher praised his team’s rebounding in the second half and final minutes of the game, saying it gave up much fewer second chance points.  New London grabbed 11 offensive rebounds in the first 16 minutes, but just four in the second.

Gaucher also discussed the offense’s exceptional ability to force fouls and consistently reach the line.

“We are a dribble-drive team, so if we can penetrate and get some contact to reach the line, we feel we can win the game.”

Following a first quarter in which both teams played excellent defense, the Eagled led 10-6 behind six from Baskerville. As Baskerville was forced to come out due to foul trouble for the entire second with two fouls, the Whalers bigs started to control the boards and Melendez scored three quick baskets, giving them an 18-12 lead just over three minutes in. Thanks to improved defense and its ability to get to the line, Enfield was able to stay in the game despite Baskerville’s absence and shooting troubles. It made 10 free throws. A clutch free by Delano and Fonseca’s floater at the buzzer tied the score and gave momentum to EHS entering the second half.

New London finished with four players in double figures. Pagan led the way with 13 points, while Melendez had 11 and McClellan and Nicholson both scored 10.

The Eagles lost their regular season game to Hall, falling 50-42 in overtime before getting revenge in the conference tournament. This is Enfield’s third consecutive season in the semifinals of the state tournament, as they lost in Class M two seasons ago to Notre Dame-Fairfield.

“We’ve lost three years in a row, and we’re ready to get it this time. We know what to do against Hall,” Bourque said.

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