Plainfield - East Lyme High School coach Bill Reagan, thanks to a short bench Wednesday night, needed his team to play conservatively.
Waterford coach Rob Von Achen thought his team looked like it was reading from a script in the first half. He urged his team to loosen up.
"I thought we were a little afraid of the situation," Von Achen said. "The second half was fun from a coach's standpoint."
Waterford's tempo won out.
Playing in the first game of the Eastern Connecticut Conference girls' basketball tournament at Plainfield High School, second-seeded Waterford scored the first 10 points of the second half and changed defenses to play a diamond-and-one with the intention of shutting down East Lyme guard Allison Stoddard.
Waterford beat No. 6 East Lyme 57-51, getting 19 points from Alyssa Hancock, 17 in the first three quarters, and 17 points from fellow guard Adily Martucci, who finished things off in much the way you would expect from a future Division I player.
Waterford (19-3), which won its 16th straight game since losing two straight in late December, moved on to the ECC championship game to meet No. 5 Norwich Free Academy (15-7) at 7 p.m. Friday, once again at Plainfield.
It was NFA that toppled top-seeded Plainfield in the second semifinal 68-59, silencing a pro-Plainfield crowd trying to scream its team to victory.
Sophomore Alyssa Velles scored 30 points for NFA, including 13 in the fourth quarter, going 11-for-11 from the free throw line in the final eight minutes. Freshman center Olivia Lane added 15 points for the Wildcats, who scored 12 straight points in the third quarter to take the lead for good.
Previously, it was Waterford's 10 straight that also gave the Lancers a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
On defense, Hancock was assigned to cover Stoddard man-to-man, while the rest of the team played a zone.
"Against Bacon (in Saturday's ECC quarterfinals), they won on a buzzer-beater. I didn't want to be that team that happened to," said Hancock of East Lyme, which edged Bacon on a last-second drive by Stoddard.
"We lost to them once and we won against them once," Waterford junior Julia Zawacki said of East Lyme. "So the beginning of the game was kind of an unsure moment. But always during halftime, we have an intense level. We always get an inspirational speech from one of the four coaches."
East Lyme led 32-28 at halftime, but it was Zawacki (8 points) that got things started just 10 seconds into the second half. Hancock followed with two straight baskets, the second to give the Lancers the lead. Martucci added two free throws after a steal and a fast break and Hancock added another jump shot to make it 38-32 in Waterford's favor.
In all, the Lancers outscored East Lyme 14-4 in the third quarter. Stoddard (14 points), was held to three points in the second half.
"Dave Shea (Bacon Academy coach) came up to me after the game and he said, 'You cut the head off (by stopping Stoddard) and the rest of the body fell,'" Von Achen said.
Waterford then led just 52-51 with 2:11 remaining when Martucci appeared to be dribbling underneath the basket, but stopped for a reverse layup. Martucci, headed to play for Quinnipiac next season, added three free throws in the final 1:08, scoring the game's final five points.
"She's got a lot of skill," Von Achen said. "That's why she's going where she is."
In the second game, Plainfield took a nine-point lead on a 3-pointer by Hailey Griffin to start the second quarter and led by nine for a great deal of the remainder of the half.
The Panthers (17-5) were up 28-23 at halftime and 40-34 midway through the third quarter when NFA coach Bill Scarlata called a timeout and the Wildcats went to a fullcourt press.
Lane scored six points of the 12-point run, Olivia Marks four and by the time the Wildcats stopped scoring they held a 46-40 lead.
"They were getting easy 3s," Scarlata said of Plainfield. "I just said if we were going to go down, we weren't going to go down like that; we were going to go down fighting. I thought the press took a little of their legs out."
NFA lost to Plainfield earlier in the season 53-45. The Wildcats led that game by one point in the second half and Scarlata told his players not to let that happen again.
"Once we get up, we're going to stay up," Scarlata said.
"Our press helped us a lot. It helps us to get baskets," Velles said. It feels great. I'm so glad we did it. We played as a team. At the beginning of the season, I never imagined this."
Kim Bouten had 20 points for Plainfield and Heather Evans added 17.