Class L girls basketball: E.O. Smith beats top-seeded Pomperaug for its first state title

UNCASVILLE – When the E.O. Smith girls basketball team lost to Conard in the CCC tournament semifinals, the Panthers were disappointed but it also provided them with a reset.

“The next day at practice, we had a conversation, we said we’re not going to let this happen again,” senior forward Maddy Hughes said. “We turned it around and our energy has going up ever since then.”

The energy kept them going all the way to the Mohegan Sun and the Class L final, where the Panthers, who had never won a state title, found themselves facing top-seeded Pomperaug Sunday afternoon.

And they won, holding off Pomperaug 58-46 for their first state championship.

“It’s still unreal,” said Hughes, who had 20 points and eight rebounds. “It didn’t feel real when we were playing and it still doesn’t feel real.

“The whole time, I felt like it was tied and we never had a lead. It was so close the whole time. They’re a great team.”

E.O. Smith (24-4) outscored Pomperaug in the paint, 26-10, outrebounded Pomperaug 41-30 and outscored the Panthers from the free throw line, going 17 for 27, while Pomperaug only went 2 for 3. Claudia Schneider led Pomperaug (22-4) with 23 points.

“I’m so excited for this team and what they earned,” E.O. Smith coach Mary Roickle said. “They had some ups and downs but they came back and they won it all.”

E.O. Smith led for most of the game but was never quite able to pull away and get comfortable and part of that was due to Pomperaug’s relentless defense, especially late in the fourth quarter, where the Panthers contested every E.O. Smith inbounds pass and pass and caused turnovers.

“(I have) many gray hairs – more from our excitement from wanting to finish the game and rushing some things,” said Roickle, laughing. “But give Pomperaug all the credit in the world. They never gave up.”

E.O. Smith pulled away in the fourth quarter, mainly from the free throw line.

Senior 6-2 center Bella Mallory, who had 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, said the idea that E.O. Smith could win the state title came to the team during fall league.

“I’m on top of the world,” she said. “This has been our dream for so long. We just had to keep telling ourselves to play our game. Use our basketball IQ and stay settled. We were expecting a respectable team. We knew what we were walking into.

“During our fall league, we thought, ‘Wow we have an amazing shot.’ We saw the (Class LL champion) East Hartford girls and they got these rings. We’ve been calling it “Project Ring” all season. Now we get the rings.”