STONINGTON — Judging by her recent stretch of dominance, Stonington junior center Sophia Bell doesn't want this girls basketball season to end anytime soon.
One game after a 26-point, 17-rebound output Saturday against Valley Regional, the 6-footer scored 20, including a 15-point outburst in the second quarter, to lead the Bears to one of their best overall performances in a 57-39 win Tuesday over Waterford in an ECC Division II game.
"I really enjoy playing with this group of seniors, so I'm not anxious for the season to end," said Bell, who made the ECC female athlete of the week on-line election for last week.
And now Bell and Co. ensured they will extend the year by a few games. By avenging a 51-50 loss to Waterford last month, the Bears earned their way into the postseason with their eighth victory in 18 games.
Though the CIAC, which has expanded to five post-season divisions, will take teams with less than .400 winning percentages into the postseason this year, Stonington's eighth win would qualify in any past campaign, thus legitimizing their tournament ticket.
"I'm very happy that this team will play in the states," Stonington coach Paulla Solar said. "Just because our record isn't what we usually have, it doesn't mean that these girls don't work as hard as anyone. They practice hard, watch film religiously and have great attitudes."
Bell started against Waterford (8-11) in the first quarter by missing all of her six shots. Stonington senior Zoe Ribeiro (18 points) picked up the slack, scoring 12 to lead the Bears on a 14-0 run to take an 18-9 lead after one.
Just when you thought Bell was headed for an off night, she went off for 15 points in the second quarter. The outburst included her first-ever 3-point basket when she grabbed a loose ball and fired up a trey to beat the second quarter buzzer and give the Bears a 37-25 halftime lead.
"Fifi (Bell) has been playing very well," Solar said. "She's contributing rebounds and defense as always, but she's playing with confidence, taking charges and even hitting outside shots."
Bell joked that the buzzer-beating situation was the only way she would attempt a 3 without receiving the wrath of Stonington's Hall of Fame coach.
"Coach doesn't let me take 3s," Bell said. "I think I took one in JV as a freshman. I'm trying to convince her I can shoot occasionally from out there."
Bell hit a 16-footer to put Stonington up, 45-29, in the third quarter. Waterford tried to press the Bears and were effective at times, but Stonington avoided long scoring droughts with Ribeiro slicing through on drives for layups and foul shots and Bell controlling the paint.
Waterford's Lilly Kramer (17 points) hit a pair of 3s to keep the Lancers from getting blown out. But Stonington's used a spread offense to whittle time off the clock and draw fouls late in the fourth quarter.
Ribeiro, who was 8 for 10 from the free-throw line, hit four for four, and guard Tori Lopresto made two shots in the final 1:39 to ice the double-digit win for Stonington. The Bears, who finished tied for third with Waterford in the five-team ECC Division II at 3-5, scored a good 14 points over the season average Tuesday.
"I thought we played with a lot of confidence to take the lead and patience in the fourth quarter to keep the lead," Ribeiro said. "This was a very big win for us."
Stonington hosts East Lyme on Senior Night 5:30 p.m. Saturday.