The Day – (Very) young Killingly wins ECC North Division girls’ basketball title

Killingly — Killingly won its second straight Eastern Connecticut Conference girls’ basketball tournament title on Wednesday night.

Killingly should be in contention for more in the future, too.

Freshman Hannah Grudzien had 15 points and 15 rebounds to help pace top-seeded Killingly past No. 3 Windham, 41-29, in the ECC North Division title game.

Killingly (13-0) didn’t start any seniors. Juniors Emma Carpenter and Sophia Moore and sophomores Alia Gutierrez (eight points) and Ella Lach rounded out its starting lineup.

“We have a really good group and I’m not concerned at all about me leaving,” said reserve Maddie Summer, Killingly’s lone senior. “They’re going to do this next year. I’m planning on it.”

Killingly won the ECC Division II tournament last season. The league moved to regional based pods this season due to the pandemic.

“Our JV team was nothing but freshman,” Killingly head coach Gina Derosier Lindberg said. “COVID rules (dictated) that we could only dress 12 on each team. … (The JVs) didn’t lose a game this year.

“We are moving up to Division II next year (the ECC has four divisions, meaning that Killingly will play in the Division I tournament), but I have group that is hungry to get better. They’re hungry to learn. They’re like sponges. They just absorb everything and build of one day to the next and there’s no looking back.”

Junior Sienna Ortiz scored 12 for the Whippets (9-3).

Killingly won with its defense. It led 16-12 after one quarter and allowed only four field goals the rest of the game.

“They play aggressive defense,” Windham head coach Andrew Gonzalez said. “Going in we liked the matchup. We felt we were ready. We just didn’t put our best offensive game out there tonight.

“We had some goals going into the game, one which was to hold them under 45. We did that. But on the other goals, we wanted to have less than a dozen turnovers. We had a dozen turnovers at the half. We said we couldn’t give them offensive rebounds. They probably had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half. The goals that we made going in we weren’t able to execute, but you can’t take anything away from them. They made it hard for us.”

Windham didn’t score in the second quarter until Ortiz made a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left.

Grudzien came right back with a layup to close the first half and give Killingly a 24-15 lead.

“We always emphasize our defense, and I really appreciate that because that’s what I like the most,” Summer said. “Every day, we do drills, and we work our defense, and we work on our boxing out and all the little things. I think today was especially good defensively because we knew we had to come out here and play really well to win this game.

Derosier Lindberg said, “I think the defense kind of took it to heart a little bit. We were not going to let Addy Gonzalez shoot. We didn’t want Sienna Ortiz to get the basketball, and everyone else had to lock down their girl. … They were hungry for this one.”

Grudzien scored six straight to give Killingly its largest lead, 39-20, with 3:10 left in the game.

Summer scored Killingly’s final points on a layup to give it a 41-22 edge with 59 seconds remaining.

As happy as Summer was to win another league title, she was just as happy she got to play an entire season of basketball, even if it was an abbreviated season due to the pandemic.

“I started holding out hope (for a season) because a lot of things got canceled (this winter),” Summer said. “I always said five games is enough. I just want to play a little bit. Then it kept going and it kept going. I feel really lucky.

“We had a great group and I’m so glad I got to play as many games as we did.”

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