story & photo
by Vito J. Leo
Members of the Norwich Free Academy Girls Basketball Team knew that if they played their cards right, they would end up being the first team ever to win a high school basketball championship played at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Cashing in on a gambling defense and the impressive numbers turned in by Most Valuable Player Kastine Evans, the Wildcats christened the casino’s court, capturing the Class LL Girls Title with a relatively easy 63-42 victory over the Career Magnet School.
Head Coach Bill Scarlata, NFA, said the championship came as the result of a team effort.
“Everyone that played tonight did a phenomenal job out there.” said Bill of his team which had been given the top seed in the tournament.
But it was a bit surprising that NFA had its way with the New Haven team which had won the Class LL title a year ago and had ended this season ranked second in the state behind NFA.
But the title came as no surprise to Stephanie Long who netted 17 points in the title tilt.
“I believed we could win from day one and I think our coaches did too. I never had a bit of doubt in my mind,” she said after the game.
It was Stephanie’s long three-pointer as the end of the first half that ended the Career dream of repeating as champs. The buzzer-beater extended NFA’s lead to 28-13, effectively quashing any hopes of staging a comeback.
“I thought [Stephanie’s shot at the half] was big. I think I was off the bench and hit the floor before the ball even went through,” said Bill, who used words like “nearly perfect” to describe his team’s winning ways at the casino and then extended that high praise to the arena itself.
“All the facilities were fantastic. The locker rooms were first class,” he said.“They were waiting there to welcome us to the casino. We couldn’t have been any happier with the way we were treated,” said Bill who had previously led NFA to five state titles, most recently in 2002.
The day after NFA won its sixth state championship in 14 years, another eastern CT team won its first-ever state crown. The Bacon Academy Girls Basketball Team prevailed, 55-53, over Berlin in the Class M championship game, one of a half dozen title tilts played at The Sun on Saturday, March 21. Ironically, Bacon (25-2) finished the season with only two losses, both to NFA (24-2).
Super Saturday started at The Sun shortly after sunrise, when Coventry and Old Lyme squared off in the Class S title game at 9 a.m., with Old Lyme winning a defensive struggle, 39-24. The Bacon win marked the conclusion of the four girls games and led to the first of the four boys game to determine champs in the state’s four divisions.
In addition to the eight newly crowned high school winners, it seems both the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and the casino came out on the winning side as well.
According to Bob Yalen, Director of Sports and Entertainment, Mohegan Sun, officials from the casino and the CIAC were pleased that their years of discussion about staging the championships at the casino had finally come to fruition.
“There is a mutual option for the event to be held here again next year, one that we will begin discussing shortly,” Bob said.