New London – It was a quiet first quarter by New London standards. The Whalers didn’t connect with a field goal until 5 minutes and 14 seconds into the Class LL State Tournament Round 2 game against Ridgefield. The Whalers trailed 16-9 after one quarter and Ridgefield star Kaya Weiskopf already had 10 points.
Suddenly, New London, the seventh seed in the LL class and the fifth ranked team in the GameTimeCT poll, put their stamp on the game. A non-skeptic the other way around.
New London outscored No. 10 Ridgefield 17-2 in the second quarter, starting with an 11-0 sprint in which the Whalers took the lead, and beat Ridgefield 53-42 on Thursday night to advance to the quarter of final, where they will take on No. 2 East Hartford.
New London manager Tammy Millsaps says the team have changed their defense, moving to a 2-3 zone to defend Ridgefield.
Whalers rookie Serenity Lancaster, who led the way with 19 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, attributed it to the emotion that ran through the team after senior guard Olivia Goode was knocked out of the game. in the first quarter with what appeared to be a knee injury.
“Most of the time it’s not what the coach said,” Lancaster, the 6-foot-1 center from New London, said of the Whalers’ setback. “What really triggered me was that one of our five starters got injured and I knew I had to win this game for her. I knew we had to take control of the game and that we just had to win.”
Nalyce Dudley added 16 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for New London (21-3) and Zanashia Croft had 13 points and nine assists. Weiskopf, a first-team All-Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference pick, had 24 points for Ridgefield (17-7), but got into rough trouble trying to guard Dudley from New London.
To start the second quarter, Croft scored a 3-point field goal for the Whalers, Lancaster scored on a finely tuned post move for his first points of the game and Croft hit another 3 to suddenly give New London the lead at 17-16. Lancaster hit a free throw and then led the fast break, collecting a pass the length of the field from Croft for a layup to end the run 11-0.
It was during this streak that Weiskopf committed her third foul and went to the bench. Ridgefield’s Mia McGarrity scored her team’s only points of the quarter with 2:45 left in the half and New London resumed monopolizing the quarter with two more Lancaster baskets, one in which she caught a pass taken sandwiched by three defensemen, and two free throws by Dudley.
Croft and Lancaster each had nine points in the half for New London, who led 26-18. The Whalers led 39-27 after three quarters.
“We did a few things for her,” Millsaps said of Lancaster. “We ran a few games exactly to get her around the basket, get some easy looks. She got a little bit stronger. We put her in the weight room.
“As with a lot of freshmen, you come in and you know you’re going to be trained hard. You have good days and you have bad days. (Lancaster) has learned to block out some of the outside noise. She’s learned that the love of a tough coach is what she needs at times.”
The Whalers, who won the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I tournament last week, now play in an LL class bracket that includes many of the state’s heavyweights. New London plays East Hartford, ranked fourth in the state poll, at 7 p.m. Monday with a trip to the semifinals on the line.
Millsaps, in her first state tournament since joining New London as a coach, said she relished the challenge.
“It was a tough game (against Ridgefield). I’m okay with that,” Millsaps said. “I just want to play the best. I have a different kind of mentality. Some people want to look at the board and figure out which team is the easiest to beat. I want to beat the best. I want to beat someone who has top seven kids, top five kids. It makes you a better coach. You have to strategize.