State champs! Wilton girls hoop rolls to LL title (updated)

For the first time in program history, the Wilton High girls basketball team is a state champion.

The second-seeded Warriors capped an amazing season by routing top-seed South Windsor, 73-45, in the Class LL finals Saturday evening at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.

It was Wilton’s first ever appearance in the state finals, and the Warriors saved their best for last, playing a near-perfect game at the right time.

"What better place for the seniors to have a great game [other] than the state championship," said Wilton head coach Jaclyn Woitkowski Porco, whose team ended the season with a 25-2 record. "I told them to go out and play for yourselves and your teammates. The team came out so focused and mentally prepared that nothing was going to get in their way of a victory.

[Listen to Wilton players, coach talk about state title on HAN Radio's Nutmeg Sports, click here.]

"It was great that we got out to an early lead, which we always like to do," added Woitkowski Porco. "I was surprised that we got out to a big lead early. I was expecting the game to go down to the last possession, but I’m happy that we got out to a big lead to take the pressure off the team and the coaching staff.

"These seniors are a special group and not just for what they do on the court. I’m so thrilled for these girls, who worked hard every day and they finally got what they deserved — a chance to raise a trophy.”

Erin Cunningham scored a game-high 33 points and grabbed 19 rebounds to lead the Warriors. Twenty-one of those points came in the opening half, as Cunningham hit four three-pointers. Cunningham finished the game four-for-five from three-point range and shot 63% from the field (12-for-19) while playing the entire 32 minutes.

"Erin is a great shooter, but is also a physical defender," said Woitkowski Porco. "She uses her body to be effective on the boards and is an unselfish player when she needs to be. It took all five starters for us to win tonight, and Erin had an incredible game to lead the way.”

The Warriors dominated South Windsor from the opening tip, going on an 8-0 run to start the game, as Cunningham and Makenna Pearsall scored four points each.

The Bobcats, who turned the ball over on their first three possessions, finally got on the board with a free throw with 5:29 left in the first quarter. South Windsor picked up its first basket when Alexandra Goslin scored with 4:23 left in the opening period to cut the Warrior lead to 14-5.

But when Cunningham drained her third three-pointer of the quarter, the Warriors had a double-digit lead at 19-7. Cunningham had 13 points in the first quarter to pace the Warriors, who led 26-15 after one.

“I was hoping to be on tonight," said Cunningham, who finished her career with a school-record 1,130 points, bypassing Matt Shifrin (a senior on this season's Wilton boys basketball team) with her 17th point in the first half. “We kept telling ourselves to treat this just like any other game and don’t let the crowd or the arena get in our way. In a town dominated by lacrosse and soccer, we helped put basketball on the map. With about 20 seconds to go in the game it finally hit me that 'oh my god, we’re going to win the championship.' ”

Wilton also got contributions in the first quarter from reserves Hannah Maatallah, who saw the lane open and used a crossover dribble to get to the hoop and score, and Christina Holmgren, who scored off an inbound pass.

South Windsor opened the second quarter with baskets by Molly Murphy and Amy McConnell to cut the Wilton lead to 26-19, but Erica Meyer converted a conventional three-point play for a double-digit (29-19) lead that Wilton would not relinquish the rest of the way.

Meyer, Wilton's 6'3" center, had a solid first half with nine points, including a basket from the elbow. She also made several nice passes from the top of the key, finishing with five assists, including one on a backdoor pass to Cunningham for a basket.

Wilton was ahead by 20 points, 45-25, at halftime. South Windsor was having some success getting to the basket — its guards used a quick first step to get by Wilton defenders — but the Bobcats couldn’t get their shots to fall, often rushing attempts due to Wilton's height advantage.

And there was no let-down after the break. The Warriors started the second half with the same fire, focus and intensity to deliver the knockout punch.

Wilton outscored the Bobcats, 16-7, in the third period to carry a 61-34 lead into the final eight minutes of the season. The Warriors continued their superb play, and when Cunningham grabbed a rebound off a missed foul shot with nine seconds to play, she held the ball and the celebration began as soon as the buzzer sounded.

The Wilton bench stormed the court and tears of joy could be seen on the faces of the players and the parents in the stands.

“We came out loose and showed that we wanted it bad,” said Pearsall, one of Wilton's five seniors. "I’ve won a state championship in lacrosse, but the build-up for this over the season, it’s like living a dream.”

The Providence-bound Meyer finished with 17 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. Pearsall, who got to a fast start, added 10 points, five rebounds, five steals, and five assists. Junior Karen Brosko (four points, five assists) and senior Haley English (three points, four rebounds, four assists) had solid games at both ends of the court and played most of the game.

South Windsor, which finished the season with a 27-2 record, was led McConnell by with 12 points and Goslin with 10 points.

In the end, the Bobcats were one of the 31 teams in the Class LL tournament field that was unable to call itself a state champion. But Wilton can — for the first time and deservedly so.