EAST WINDSOR, Feb. 21 – Lauren Keel had seven points in a 12-2 run that gave the East Windsor girls basketball the lead and the Panthers sank seven of eight free throws in the final two minutes to beat Canton on Tuesday night, 55-42 and earn a spot in the NCCC Tournament championship game.
No. 2 seed East Windsor (19-3) will play in the tournament title game for the first time in school history on Thursday night against league champion Suffield (20-2) at 7 p.m. Suffield is in the NCCC final for the first time since 2012 and it looking for their first tournament crown since 2005.
Canton (18-4) led by three points with 2:30 left in the third quarter, 34-31, on a Belle Magna jumper. That capped off a 7-2 run by the Warriors with four points from Magna and three from Abby Charron.
But East Windsor, sparked by Keel, went on a 12-2 surge to open up a seven-point lead, 43-36, with 5:05 left in the fourth quarter. A three-pointer from Alyssa Saponare capped off the Panther surge.
Baskets from Magna and Emily Briggs cut the lead to three, 43-40 with 3:08 but Canton was held scoreless for nearly two and a half minutes. In that stretch, the Panthers converted on seven of eight free throw attempts to extend the lead to 10 and earn the victory.
“It was a night of missed opportunities,” Canton coach Brian Medeiros said. “We didn’t come out with great energy and it took us a half to get settled in. There were some things that didn’t go our way but that’s part of being the road team in a playoff game.
“We have to do a better job handling adversity, myself included,” he said. “Give all of the credit to East Windsor as they should have a very competitive game with Suffield on Thursday.”
Loren D’Agostino led all scorers with a game-high 26 point and 12 rebounds while Keel had 11 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. For Canton, Charron led the Warriors with 14 points while Briggs scored 12. It was the second loss to East Windsor in less than a week. The Panthers beat Canton, 46-44 on February 14, snapping a 15-game winning streak.
It was the third straight year that Canton dropped a NCCC Tournament semifinal game. They haven’t been to the NCCC finals since 1999.
However, Canton has been to the last two Class S championship games. They won their first state title last March and are the defending state champions.
The Warriors are ranked No. 3 in the Class S tournament behind top-ranked East Hampton (18-2) and No. 2 Housatonic (18-2). East Windsor also finished 17-3 in the regular season but Canton got the No. 3 seed because they played a stronger schedule this season — including wins over Kolbe Cathedral, Notre Dame-Fairfield, Avon and Tolland.
Canton opens up the Class S tournament against No. 30 Derby (7-13) on Monday, hosting the Raiders at 7 p.m. It is the first year of the new CIAC tournament format, which is expanded to 32 teams – even if teams have a losing record.
The second round will be Thursday, March 2 with the quarterfinals on Tuesday, March 7. East Hampton, East Windsor and No. 5 Thomaston are in the opposite bracket and Canton will only see those respective teams if they both make it to the championship game.
“Any time you can play a good team it helps prepare you for games down the road,” Medeiros said. “I think we do a great job at Canton looking at the big picture. I feel this loss will set the tone as we move into the state tournament much like last year’s loss to Bolton did in the league semifinals.
“I’m very confident in the players that we have,” he said. “I know they are capable of doing something very special.”
East Windsor 52, Canton 44
At East Windsor
Canton (44) Abbe Skinner 1-3-5, Belle Magna 4-0-8, Emily Briggs 6-0-12, Sarah Bowman 1-0-2, Abby Charron 6-1-14, Lauren Eschenbrenner 1-0-3, Leah Eschenbrenner 0-0-0. Totals 19-4-44
East Windsor (52) Alyssa Saponare 2 0 5, Jessica Saponare 0 1 1, Stephanie Rodrique 2 2 6, Lauren Keel 4 2 11, Loren D’Agostino 8 10 26, Alyssa Garner 1 0 3. Totals 17 15 52
Canton (18-4) 12 9 15 8 — 44
East Windsor (19-3) 16 10 9 17 — 52
Three-point goals: Charron (C), Lauren Eschenbrenner (C); Garner (EW), Saponare (EW), Keel (EW)
2017 NCCC Tournament
Thursday, Feb. 16
(8) Granby 31, (9) East Granby 18
Friday, Feb. 17
(3) Canton 72, (6) Windsor Locks 39
Saturday, Feb. 18
(2) East Windsor 51, (7) Ellington 43
(4) Bolton 53, (6) SMSA 42
(1) Suffield 55, Granby 39
Tuesday, Feb. 21
East Windsor 52, Canton 44
Suffield 41, Bolton 38
Thursday, Feb. 22
East Windsor at Suffield, 7 p.m.