Pictured: Megan Loflin works for scoring position in the post during the Wildcats’ regular-season finale Thursday in Portland. (Photo by Danny Atkinson) 

By Danny Atkinson

PORTLAND – The Old Lyme girls basketball team is coming together well at the right time.

The Wildcats, who rely heavily on underclassmen, won at Portland 52-37 Thursday night to end the regular season with five consecutive wins. They ended their regular season 13-7 and 9-7 in Shoreline Conference play to earn a sixth seed in the conference tournament beginning Saturday. Old Lyme is also inside the top 10 in the CIAC Class S tournament seedings. With its depth and chemistry, defense and passing abilities, Old Lyme will be handful for every opponent it faces here on out.

On Thursday, the Wildcats’ passing skills and ability to stretch the floor on offense was consistently on display, especially in a 35-point first half. With sophomore Ava Roth, junior Alexis Fenton and freshman Kate Walsh controlling the ball at the guard spots, Old Lyme was able to move the ball quickly and find star senior center Megan Loflin open down low or others open on the perimeter for good looks.

Loflin overpowered defenders throughout the game and especially in the opening quarter, scoring 13 points to put the Wildcats up 18-12. As the Highlanders keyed in more on stopping Loflin, multiple teammates picked up the scoring slack in the final three quarters as they generated multiple fastbreak baskets off of steals. Even when Old Lyme struggled to hit jumpers in the second half and allowed a few too many steals, its passing and ball movement continued to be of high quality.

Loflin led the way against Portland with a game-high 21 points, while Fenton had 9 (including the team’s two 3s) and Roth 8. Loflin made all nine free throws she attempted and the Wildcats went 10 of 12 as a team, an area players said they have improved in behind the encouragement of head coach Don Bugbee.

Old Lyme has improved as an offensive team across the board during its 6-1 February, with the only loss to Valley Regional. It finished the season averaging 41.3 point overall but 44.1 this month. The Wildcats’ first win against Hale-Ray and Thursday’s W are only the second and third time they have scored over 50 this season. Each of the last five wins has been by double-digits.

Loflin and Fenton each discussed how important the player’s teamwork and passing has been to their current success.

“We’ve gotten to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and you can see that in our passing and ability to communicate with one another offensively and defensively,” Loflin said. “The area we’ve improved in the most is definitely our passing. We’re seeing the floor, and knowing where to go on plays is getting us a lot more points. Finally, our foul shooting has improved a lot and helped us win games.”

“We were like a new team at the beginning of the season after we lost a lot of seniors but now our team chemistry is so much better, and we’re better as a result,” Felton said. She also cheekily added that Loflin in the post was the team’s biggest strength.

Bugbee shares his belief that the team’s chemistry as well as its work ethic is a huge factor in its 13-win season.

“Our strength is that the team will play hard and compete to their best of our ability in every game,” he said. “We just need to be more consistent offensively.”

While Loflin has scored and rebounded effectively in these recent wins, others had big contributions in each one.

Walsh scored 15 points with three 3-pointers alongside Loflin’s 13 and 9 rebounds in a 47-22 rout of Old Saybrook on Senior Night. Fenton scored a combined 27 points in the wins against Hale-Ray, with Roth earning 4 steals in the first win. Loflin went for 22 and 13 and Fenton 12 points in the win at St. Bernard on Feb. 2.

Old Lyme has been especially strong on defense — even in losses. Opponents averaged 34.8 points per game and scored under 40 fourteen times. During this 5-game win streak, opponents averaged just 25.8 points.

Old Lyme’s defensive strengths were consistently on display against Portland. The Wildcats’ aggressive backcourt played the passing lanes very well and forced the Highlanders into a steady stream of steals and travels, with Roth in particular picking off a few balls. The Highlanders were well-covered on the perimeter and when they did get the ball inside, Loflin and others were there to challenge shots.

The Highlanders did an admirable job of scoring off offensive rebounds and getting to the free-throw line against the physical Wildcats, but they earned very few easy looks overall. Hannah Brunk and Sam Lasky were great with 17 and 15 points, but only one other teammate hit a field goal.

“I think we have improved a great deal on defense,” Bugbee said.

Old Lyme’s only loss of the month was a 39-37 heartbreaker at Valley, which ended the regular season 17-3. In the loss, it nearly came all the way back after trailing by seven entering the fourth, and Loflin went for 15 and 9 and Walsh scored 8.

Now, the Wildcats will get a chance to avenge the defeat as the No. 6 seed in the Shoreline tournament Saturday in the quarterfinals.

“We just got to work well together and make shots at the foul line and from outside. Now that we know better how to avoid turnovers, we can find ways to fix it,” Loflin said.

Added Bugbee, “To beat a very good team like Valley, you need to minimalize your mistakes and capitalize on every opportunity that comes your way.”

Old Lyme has never won the Shoreline tournament. The ‘Cats have lost two straight years in the semifinals to eventual champion East Hampton as both a No. 4 and 5 seed. Beyond the conference tournament, it advanced to the Class S quarterfinals as an 8 seed in both 2019 and ’20. Loflin and Bugbee are both confident the Wildcats could win a conference title and make a run in states.

“For sure. We have the ability to beat anyone if we communicate and execute well,” Loflin said.

“We always play one game at a time,” Bugbee said. “Our ability to go on a run obviously depends on seeding and the opponents we will face.”

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