CLINTON, Conn. — When the hottest topic in the postgame debate is where to go for ice cream, you can rest assured it's been a good night of playoff basketball for your team.
That's what No. 22 Stonington High found itself discussing after turning back No. 6 Morgan, 59-50, in the second round of the Class M girls basketball tournament Thursday night.
Stonington received a career-high 32 points from senior Zoe Ribeiro, including a 10-for-10 night at the free-throw line.
"I think our energy is what made us push through this game," Ribeiro said. "The bench was great, the on-the-court was great, everyone brought what they needed to bring to the game. That is what we needed to do."
The game was still tight into the fourth quarter. A driving layup by Morgan's Catie Donadio (14 points) made it 47-44 with just under six minutes left.
Riberio then hit a 10-footer in the lane and a pair of shots from the free-throw line to push the lead to nine points, 53-44, with 3:10 left.
Stonington moved Riberio to the high post in the second half and it paid off, particularly down the stretch.
"She is such an offensive threat, leaving her on the outside wasn't as beneficial," Stonington coach Paulla Solar said. "She can wheel and deal and she can shoot from the free-throw line. Those two [free-throw] shots were big, big shots.
"We decided she could be more of a threat there than out on a wing."
Stonington (10-12) also made a defensive change during the fourth-quarter run, going from a 2-3 zone to man-to-man.
Morgan (18-7) made just two field goals over the final four minutes after the switch, and one of those was a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Morgan made four 3-pointers in the third quarter, which also helped spur the defensive change.
"We were late getting out on those, but we were worried about No. 12 (Donadio) as a slasher. That's why we played the zone," Solar said.
Stonington was 6 of 8 from the line in the final 1:43 to stave off any hopes of a Morgan rally.
Stonington junior Sophia Bell finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds, eight on the offensive end. She also blocked four shots. Bell was effective inside, benefiting from deft passes from teammates Maggie Daley, Tori LoPresto and Sophia Fernholz.
"We have really good chemistry," Bell said. "It's like we are mind readers. We always know where we want the ball and when it is a good time to pass it."
Stonington has faced a brutal schedule this season that included South Kingstown, Bacon Academy twice, New London twice, East Lyme and NFA. At one point, the Bears lost seven straight. Lesser teams might have wilted.
"I am just really, really proud of the kids because we had a bumpy road," Solar said. "I told the kids we would struggle, but it would be beneficial once we got to the tournament. I was just concerned about getting to the tournament."
Solar said the team demonstrated perseverance despite the challenges.
"It's definitely difficult. That's why I'm so proud of the girls," Solar said. "A lot of the teams in the past, they have had it by the time you get to postseason. But these kids come to practice to work. They don't have that sluggish look."
Fernholz also contributed six rebounds and three assists for the Bears.
Stonington will face a tough challenge on Monday when it makes the long trek to Waterbury for a 7 p.m. quarterfinal-round game against No. 3 Holy Cross. The Crusaders cruised past No. 19 Griswold, 68-17, on Thursday.
Stonington beat Griswold, 61-36, on Jan. 4.