CANTON, February 20 – In the past three years, the Canton High girls basketball team has played in three consecutive Class S championship games and have won the last two.
In that same span, the Warriors did not reach a single North Central Connecticut Conference tournament title game.
Well, now the Warriors can cross that off their bucket list. Canton earned their first trip to the NCCC Tournament championship in 18 years with a 44-28 victory over Granby Tuesday night in the NCCC semifinals.
Top-seeded Canton (18-4, 16-0 NCCC) will face No. 3 East Windsor on Thursday night at 7 p.m. in Canton for the championship. The Panthers (17-5, 13-3 NCCC) beat No. 7 Suffield in the other semifinal game on Tuesday, 43-32.
Canton’s Lauren Eschenbrenner tied a career-high with 17 points, including four 3-point shots. She had back-to-back three-point shots to cap off a 14-0 run in the third quarter. The Warriors led by two points at halftime gave up one field goal in the third quarter as they grabbed a 16-point lead.
Belle Magna had eight points for Canton while Abby Charron had seven points, eight assists and three steals.
“We were able to cash in our pressure (defense in the third quarter),” Canton coach Brian Medeiros said. “This time, we were able to get stops and hit those 8 and 10 foot shots that we didn’t hit in the first half.”
The two teams combined to score just 12 points in the first quarter as the visiting Bears came away with a 7-5 lead. They blocked several Canton shots in the first quarter. The Bears had a one-point lead when Allie Delsanto drained a three-point shot for a 15-13 lead for the Warriors with 2:36 left in the first half. The Warriors led 18-16 at the half.
“Granby came out with a different look – a triangle (defense),” Medeiros said. “Kids were open but they didn’t realize and they hesitated.” That gave Granby time to collapse on shooters and pull down rebounds.
In the third quarter, Canton finally starting sinking jump shots. Belle Magna hit one, Abby Charron sank one and Grace Treacy had two baskets. Eschenbrenner had a pair of three-point shots to cap off the 14-0 run and give Canton a 32-16 lead with 2:19 left in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Magna stole a ball and drove in for a layup. Eschenbrenner drained a three-pointer with 5:28 remaining to give Canton their biggest lead – 19 points, 37-18.
A basket from Elsie Phillips in the lane and a three-point shot from Madee McGee cut the lead to 11 with 4:25 remaining but the Bears wouldn’t get too much closer.
“We had to work (for this win),” Medeiros said. “Granby is a talented team. They have good size and good athletes. For us to beat them bodes well for us.”
Canton returns to the NCCC championship game for the first time since 1999 when they dropped a 41-30 decision to E.O. Smith-Storrs. The last time that Canton won a NCCC Tournament was in 1997 with a 62-41 victory over Ellington.
East Windsor is making their second straight trip to the finals. The Panthers lost to Suffield in last year’s title game, 53-29. Last year’s game was the first-ever appearance for East Windsor in the tournament final.
NOTES: It was the third win of the season for Canton over the Bears. Canton prevailed in early January, 47-38 with Charron scoring 17 points. On January 31, Canton rallied in the fourth quarter for a 46-42 victory with Paige Brown and Charron scoring 11 points each. … Canton beat East Windsor in late January with a 42-26 victory with Magna scoring 11 points and Lauren Puglielli adding 10. … Eschenbrenner also had 17 points in a loss to Conard and a win over Ellington.
Canton 44, Granby 28
Granby (28) Alana King 0-1-1, Jolyn Brown 2-0-4, Isabel Martel 0-0-0, Madee McGee 2-2-8, Alyssa Tweedle 0-0-0, Mackenzie Stahl 3-3-9, Joira Paine 0-0-0, Elsie Phillips 3-0-6, Mackenzie Pedersen 0-0-0. Totals 7 6-14 28
Canton (44) Belle Magna 3 2-2 8, Abby Charron 3 1-2 7, Allison Celemer 1 1-1 3, Grace Treacy 2-0-4, Lauren Eschenbrenner 6 1-1 17, Morgan Walzak 0-0-0, Allie Delsanto 1-0-3, Paige Brown 0-0-0, Gabby Schinkel 0-0-0, Maggie First 1-0-2. Totals 17 5-8 44
Granby (16-6) 7 9 5 7 — 28
Canton (18-4) 5 13 15 11 – 44
Three-point goals: McGee (G) 2, Eschenbrenner (Ca) 4, Delsanto (Ca)