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MILFORD — When it comes time for the postseason, one thing which can never be counted out is the heart of a champion. Just ask the Hamden Green Dragons.

Despite entering the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament as the seventh seed, the defending champions rallied, then pulled away for a 56-49 victory over sixth-seeded Shelton in the opener of the SCC semifinals at Jonathan Law Monday evening.

Hamden (14-9) will look to defend its SCC title against fourth-seeded East Haven, a 49-35 winner over top-seeded Hand in the second semifinal, Wednesday evening at Branford High at 7 p.m.

Shelton, which had upset second-seeded Sheehan in the quarterfinals, entered the fourth quarter with a three-point lead, but that advantage could have been much more. Shelton missed numerous inside shots, was 6-of-19 from the foul line, had two players foul out and two more in foul trouble to add to its troubles.

“We were 2-for-8 from the foul line in the fourth quarter,” Shelton coach Joe Cavallaro said. “I think they hit all thirteen. In close games, you can’t be 6-of-19. Instead of being a close game, the score could have been a lot different. It was a sloppy game for us.”

After scoring 13 points in the first half of the opener, Hamden senior Asya Brandon was held to just one point in the third quarter as the Green Dragons went to the fourth quarter trailing 36-33. Brandon then took over. The senior guard drained a 3-pointer, her fourth, to even the game at 36, hit a bucket and free throw with 1:44 remaining in the fourth for a 50-46 lead, then sank four consecutive free throws to seal the victory and put Hamden back in the title game. She finished with 24 points.

The Gaels (17-6) had plenty of opportunities to extend their second half leads, especially with Hamden going cold in spurts. Junior Clarrissa Pierre scored five points in the first half, but then started to come alive with eight points in the third, the last four to get the game even at 31 with 1:15 remaining in the quarter.

Hamden stepped up its defense in the final nine minutes. It took the lead for good at 41-39 on a pair of free throws from freshman Gianna Robert with 4:44 to go.

The first half was a struggle for points as each team could not get any sustained rhythm offensively. Behind 13 points from Brandon, the Green Dragons took a 26-21 lead after two quarters of play.

Despite leading by five points, Hamden struggled in the paint and leaned on the outside shot, hitting five 3-pointers in the opening half. Of the Green Dragons first six field goals, four were from 3-point range.

Shelton took an early lead in the contest and increased the first quarter margin to 11-6 on a 3-pointer by Keira O’Connor and a bucket by Leya Vohra.

Hamden took over in the second quarter with an 18-10 run, led by Brandon with 10 points. The senior guard got the Green Dragons even at 11 with a long-range 3-pointer, followed a 3-pointer by Diamond White with another of her own for a 19-14 advantage, and nailed a basket and a pair of free throws in succession for a 25-19 lead late in the second quarter.

White finished with 13 points and Rebecca Oberman-Levine added 10 in the win.

O’Connor added 14 points in the loss for Shelton.

Hamden 56, Shelton 49

Hamden 8 18 7 22 — 56

Shelton11 10 15 13 — 49

HAMDEN

Asya Brandon 2 4 8-10 24; Rebecca Oberman-Levine 3 0 4-4 10; Yarliz Santiago 0 1 1-2 4; Montsho Canton 1 0 1-2 3; Diamond White 2 2 3-4 13; Gianna Robert 0 0 2-2 2

Totals 8 7 19-24 56

SHELTON

Leya Vohra 1 0 4-6 6; Keira O’Connor 2 3 1-2 14; Ashia Askew 2 0 0-2 4; Clarissa Pierre 8 0 1-8 17; Devan Wildman 3 0 0-1 6; Reem Abdel-Hack 1 0 0-0 2

Totals 17 3 6-19 49