East Lyme - The postseason starts today with the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament. The state tournament is not far behind.
So Adam Baber, Ledyard High School's girls' basketball coach, didn't mince any words in conveying how important Wednesday night's regular-season finale was against ECC Large Division opponent East Lyme.
"We called this a playoff game," Baber said. "The postseason started for us today. … Not a bad start."
Kyle Fustini finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds as Ledyard, the Medium Division champion, topped East Lyme 63-43, giving Ledyard the No. 2 seed in the league tournament behind Bacon Academy. Ledyard is 17-3, fifth-seeded East Lyme 15-4, with both teams receiving byes into Saturday's ECC quarterfinals.
Fustini, in fact, played out of position due to a lineup change. Hannah Hutchins, a third post player, started for guard Olivia DelGrosso because DelGrosso missed a practice due to illness. That put Hutchins in the center spot and pushed Fustini to the wing.
Fustini said she was out of her comfort zone, but didn't exactly look it.
She had 11 points in the first half as Ledyard built a 37-18 lead and added two more baskets as the Colonels started the third quarter on a 6-0 run to stretch their margin to 43-18.
"I put her on the wing and she said, 'What do I do?'" Baber said. "I said, 'Just be Kylie. If you see something you can do, do it.' She said, 'It sounds confusing.' It looked like it went pretty well."
Meanwhile DelGrosso came off the bench and had 14 first-half points, 16 overall, hitting four 3-pointers. Hutchins added nine rebounds and Ari Fustini had 11 assists.
Ledyard will play in the ECC quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Saturday at Plainfield, facing the winner of tonight's game between Stonington and 10 New London. East Lyme will play No. 4 Plainfield in its quarterfinal at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Baber said given the choice between team concepts and just plain old shooting, he opted to have his team shoot for the bulk of Tuesday's practice session, having not practiced for several days due to the region's recent blizzard.
"We would do 15 minutes of shooting, 3-5 minutes of team stuff, 15 minutes of shooting," Baber said. "We were a little rusty, but they worked hard."
East Lyme, meanwhile, didn't get to practice Tuesday, as school was still closed due to the weather. Still, the lead changed hands several times early, with Colleen Durkee hitting a left-handed layup on the front end of a fast break to give the Vikings their last lead at 6-5.
With the game tied 8-8, Ledyard scored the next nine points and went on a 17-2 run overall to push the margin to 25-10, getting a 3-pointer by DelGrosso and an off-balance shot on an offensive rebound by Michelle Klinikowski at the buzzer to end the first quarter.
Kylie Fustini scored her first five points of the second quarter on free throws and DelGrosso added a 3 - she hit three of them in the second quarter - during the decisive run.
Jenna Schumacher finished with 14 points and Durkee 13 for East Lyme.
"I didn't know their girl was sick, I thought (by starting three post players) they were trying to take advantage of our not being that big," East Lyme coach Bill Reagan said. "Defensively we didn't have an answer."
"Especially the first time you see us, our length is going to be a factor," Baber said. "I think it was tonight. (The post players) make it so you can't see anything. … We looked good."