Waterford - There was a Division I player on each side, Waterford's Adily Martucci and Sport Sciences of Hartford's Morgan Murphy.
And among the multitude of other dynamics that made themselves present in the Waterford gymnasium Thursday night, the most entertaining was a scoring battle between a pair of selfless stars, both seniors, both of whom finished with 27 points.
Martucci's team won 73-63, giving sixth-seeded Waterford a quarterfinal berth in the Class M state girls' basketball tournament on Monday against No. 3 Ellington. Ellington topped No. 14 Trinity Catholic 49-40, also Thursday.
"It's the first time we've been past the first round of states in my four years here," said Martucci, a guard, headed next season to play at Quinnipiac University. "We've never been here. And we don't want this to ever end."
Martucci's team won, but not without withstanding an effort from Murphy - a Binghamton University recruit - that kept No. 11 Sport Sciences hanging around way longer than it looked like it would in the first minute when a more athletic Waterford team took a 6-0 lead.
Sport Sciences, meanwhile, had a bus load of fans and cheerleaders descend on Waterford's gym during the second quarter. With the bulk of Waterford's usual fans at the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament watching the Lancers' boys' team play, the Sport Sciences crowd was dominant, egging on Murphy with the "you can't stop her" chant and serenading one traveling call by Martucci with a "you can't do that."
But then there was Martucci.
She gave Waterford the lead for good at 50-49 with about two minutes left in the third quarter on a steal and a layup.
She caught a long pass from point guard Alyssa Hancock in the fourth quarter that was over her head, leaping up like a shortstop to bring the ball down with one hand, then planted, turned and made a layup.
And in the game's closing minutes, when Sport Sciences had her double-teamed, she found teammate Christine Hadfield open under the basket so many times that Hadfield finished with 26 points herself.
"Unbelievable," Waterford coach Rob Von Achen said of Martucci, asked if it was the best game he's ever seen her play.
"The best all-around game. She knew what she had to do and how to do it. She had control of herself and the team. She drove and dished better than anyone I've ever seen. She just absolutely took over."
Martucci said for her, personally, there was a bit of lingering sadness this week at having lost the ECC tournament championship last Friday to Norwich Free Academy.
Never one to play the starring role, choosing to blend in with her teammates as the Lancers reeled off a 16-game winning streak and won the ECC Medium Division this season, Martucci said she felt an even greater sense of urgency to focus on Thursday night.
"I felt like, 'If someone's going to mess up, then let it be me,'" Martucci said. "We don't want to lose again. We want to make it to Mohegan (Sun for the championship game)."
Martucci noted that Murphy, Sport Sciences' 5-foot-10 center, literally had defenders hanging off her and was still able to score.
"The best thing she does is she works hard all the time," Sport Sciences coach Chris Denfeld said of Murphy. "That's going to help us going forward. That they can see her work as hard as we try to build a program."
Sport Sciences took its first lead in the second quarter (24-23) on a 6-0 run capped by a basket by Allie Mosdale and later took a 47-46 lead in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Kayla Mercer. The Tigers were 14-for-19 from the free throw line.
"It's an awesome feeling, our senior year," Hadfield said. "Losing to NFA was a huge letdown game; right now we know not to take anything for granted."