Bacon Academy senior captain Valerie Luizzi drives on Holy Cross senior Ella Atkins at the Class M championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena on March 20. The Bobcats lost 61-38.
The second time at Mohegan Sun Arena was not a charm for the Bacon Academy girls’ basketball team, who lost to Holy Cross 61-38 in the Class M championship game on March 20.
It was the Bobcats second trip to Mohegan, also falling to New London in the Eastern Connecticut Conference (ECC) title game on Feb 22.
Holy Cross, a private Catholic school from Waterbury, entered the championship game riding a 33-game winning streak and hadn’t lost a game in over two years. They earned the top-seed in the state tournament after finishing the regular season 20-0.
Early on the Bobcats struggled with the Crusaders aggressive approach, falling behind 8-0 within the first few minutes.
Cara Shea scored on an assist from Emma Mancuso, temporarily halting the Crusaders’ scoring surge, before Holy Cross scored eight of the next nine and took a 19-8 lead into the second quarter.
Holy Cross deployed a defensive strategy that pressured and often doubled point guard Valerie Luizzi, forcing the ball out of the senior captains’ hands.
Luizzi was Bacon’s primary ball handler, especially after shooting guard Ashley Lizotte suffered an injury midway through the year and was forced to miss the second half of the season.
“We have one point guard and they knew that and they went after that and really made her work. That was a good strategy,” said Bacon Academy head coach John Shea. “Our secondary ball handlers are not ready for this. Hopefully they will be next year.”
Depth also played a role as the Crusaders had the luxury of rotating in ten players in the first quarter.
To start the second quarter, Marissa Nudd made a pair of free throws and then Emily Ferrigno made a layup with an assist from Luizzi to reduce the deficit to nine. It was the closest the Bobcats would get the rest of the game.
Holy Cross junior Mya Zaccagnini scored a game-high 20 points, including her 1,000th career point on a baseline jumper in the fourth quarter.
Bacon was hurt mostly by 26 turnovers, which was a result of the relentless pressure by the Crusaders placed on the ball.
“You could tell they scouted us,” Luizzi said following the game. “They have a bigger rotation and that helped them.”
Coach Shea added that the Crusaders deep lineup was hard to compete with, saying, “They are fresh and they are talented. That’s why they’ve had success; they are just really good players. Even off the bench they hurt you with rebounding and defensive intensity.”
Nudd finished with a team-high 15 points and [Cara] Shea had 11. Nudd and Shea each added eight rebounds and Luizzi dished out a handful of assists.
Luizzi, Mancuso, and Lizotte will be graduating, leaving a sizable production void. Luizzi averaged 15 points per game this season, while Mancuso and Lizotte each averaged over six points per game.
“It was a joy coming to practice every day because of their work ethic and the way they acted on the court and the type of people they are,” coach Shea said of his seniors. “We are really going to miss them. I’m just fortunate to coach them.”
Luizzi, who will continue her basketball career at Keene State College in New Hampshire, said she really enjoyed mentoring the younger girls this season, adding, “I think everyone from the freshmen through the juniors came in knowing their position and they were already confident coming in.”
“I love this team. It is definitely the closest team that I’ve played with in the last four years. We just have each other’s back,” added Luizzi. “Leaving the program how we left it is amazing. I really think they can definitely get back [to Mohegan] next year.”
Nudd, who led the team with 18 points per game, and returning starters Shea and Ferrigno will head the team next year. Top reserves Elizabeth Glover and Katelyn Novak will also play major roles, as will Grace Saldana, Veronica Smith, Ariel Nair, and Olivia Tellar.
East Hampton senior Madison Yorker boxes out Bacon Academy senior Emma Mancuso during the Class M semifinals at Plainville High School. The Bellringers fell to the Bobcats 30-26.
East Hampton girls’ basketball was eliminated by Bacon Academy in the semifinals of the Class M state tournament at Plainville High School on March 14.
The 30-26 loss ended a remarkable year for the Bellringers, who finished the regular season 18-2 and won a third consecutive Shoreline Conference (SLC) championship with a victory over Valley Regional on Feb. 26.
A triumph in the semifinals would have sent East Hampton to their first state championship game since 1985.
For head coach Shaun Russell, the elimination loss wasn’t because of a lack of effort.
“The kids played their hearts out like they did all season long, but the bottom line is you are not going to win a state semifinals by scoring 26 points,” said Russell. “Congrats to Bacon, they are a solid team with veteran players,”
East Hampton controlled the tempo for a majority of the first half, using precision ball movement to counter Bacon’s trapping zone. Often the ball would be passed between two or three players without a single dribble.
The result was a 16-11 halftime lead. Freshman Liana Salamone was brilliant in the first half, scoring 11 points and helping defend Bacon’s senior point guard Valerie Luizzi.
Luizzi, who was held scoreless in the first quarter, heated up as the game aged and scored 12 of her game-high 17 points in the second half. She went on a personal seven-point run in the third quarter, allowing the Bobcats to claw back into the game and they took their first lead on an Emma Mancuso jumper late in the quarter.
Salamone countered by hitting a pull-up jumper on the baseline and making one or two free throws to regain the lead for the Bellringers.
Early in the fourth quarter, Jordan Murphy scored in translation with an assist from Jackie Russell, giving East Hampton a 25-21 advantage.
It would prove to be the last bucket or the night for the Bellringers as the team’s offense stalled the rest of the game, managing only one point over the final six minutes.
With less than ten seconds left, Salamone’s contested layup attempt—which would have tied the game—rattled out. Luizzi grabbed the rebound and hit two free throws to seal the win.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Russell and his team, who matched the Bobcats physically for the entire 32-minute slugfest.
“We got some better angels early and later we didn't play through the contact and what seemed like a whistle early wasn’t late. We have to adjust to the game when it’s being played,” said Russell.
Poor free throw shooting also hurt the Bellringers, who made only four of 11 attempts from the charity stripe.
It was only the third defeat—including the postseason—suffered by the Bellringers all winter.
Overall, the team won 23 of 26 games and posted winning streaks of 11 games and 9 games. They also won all 15 games played at East Hampton High School.
Following the loss, Russell’s message to the team was one of support and encouragement.
“I think right now you want to be there for your seniors. Their careers just ended,” said Russell, who will return four of five starters. “The younger girls will have to take this experience and learn from it and move forward. The reality of the situation is there are no guarantees that you’ll be back in this game. You still have to win and earn it, but I think we are capable of doing it and I think we’ve shown that.”
Russell will lose two seniors to graduation in starting center Madison Yorker and reserve Elizabeth MacDonald. Both played critical roles on and off the court.
Yorker said the team became a family, adding, “I looked forward to playing with these girls and going to practice every day. These girls became some of my best friends. I truly think that this was one of the things that got us this far in our season.”
“I will miss being a Bellringer basketball player in general because of how much support and love the school, coaches, and girls give to the program [and] sport,” added Yorker.
Russell said the departing seniors will be missed next season, crediting them for the team’s chemistry this winter.
“They have meant everything and their leadership is unrivaled. They are two of the greatest teammates you will ever see,” added Russell. “They have been the foundation and anything that has occurred this year is because of what they have instilled, the way that they have led the younger kids, and the way that they guided them.”
Salamone, who plays point guard and earned first team All-SLC, will head a terrific group coming back next year. [Jackie] Russell, a sophomore, and [Jordan] Murphy, a junior, also made all-conference. Starter Delany Russell will also be returning for her senior year. Key reserves Amber Murphy and Olivia DeMartino will also assume larger roles next winter.
Layla Spann-McDonald, a junior at Glastonbury High School, is making a name for herself on a national level, recently becoming an All-American in track and field.
Spann-McDonald finished 13th overall in the Weight Throw Championship at The New Balance Indoor Track and Field National Championship in New York on March 11. She then placed 5th in the Weight Throw and 6th in the Shot Put at the Adidas Indoor Nationals in Virginia Beach, VA on March 19 and 20.
Both of her tosses in the weight throw were personal-bests. At the New Balance Championship, she tossed 20-pound-weight 44.5 feet. At the Adidas National, she reached 45.1 feet.
She described the experience at the New Balance Championships as “overwhelming”, but settled down once she found her fellow throwers.
“I have never seen that many people in such a compact area. I felt very intimidated and then I walked to the throwing area and I saw my friend and she calmed me down,” said Spann-McDonald
The 16-year old first started throwing in grade school and has expanded her repertoire of throws ever since.
Along with the weight throw and shot put, she also excels at the hammer throw and discus.
The weight throw and hammer throw are not part of Connecticut high schools track and field.
Spann-McDonald, who prefers the hammer throw to the weight throw, qualifies for regional and national tournaments by attending local competitions in either Massachusetts or New York.
Last spring she finished 4th overall in the discus at the Class LL outdoor track finals and this past winter she had a personal-record throw of 35’2.5” in the shot put during the indoor season.
Her throwing days started after a discussion with her parents. Both her mom and dad were runners in track and, after giving dance a try, she joined track and field.
She started as a runner before realizing she had a talent for projecting heavy objects through the air.
Her twin sister, Zoe Spann-McDonald, also joined the track team and now excels at hurdling at GHS.
“I think we drive each other,” Layla said of the relationship with Zoe, who is a minute older. “At the [New Balance] meet she was telling me I was going to do good and just to focus. I focused that day and it really showed.”
Over the years she said she has “learned to love the process”, along with improving her throwing form.
“Technique is way more important than strength. Strength is an element but you really want to work on your technique. You can be really strong and have terrible technique and not throw it far. You need both,” she said.
She credits her success with being both mentally and physically prepared. To get ready for a meet she listened to music and positive affirmations, adding that she now feels confident heading into a meet thanks to the hard work she puts in leading up.
“My dad tells me practice is where you win your medals,” she said. “He says every time you throw you should throw like it’s a competition in practice.”
Spann-McDonald said her confidence began to really grow during the state competitions last spring when the Guardians won the Class LL state tournament and finished as the runner-up in the State Open.
Last spring was her first real chance because her freshman outdoor season was cancelled and her sophomore winter season was basically a wash because of Covid.
Now a junior, she enters this spring as one of the favorites in both the shot put and discus.
She described the throwing group at GHS as “tight-knit” and now helps the younger throwers with their technique and by encouraging them.
Her plan for this spring is simple, “My goal is to keep my confidence up and try my best.”
GHS cheerleading seniors (l-r) Holly Barbieri, Taylor Cronin, Lauren Gallagher, and Lucy Talbot were known as 'The Final Four'
March Madness has begun. Both the men’s and women’s NCAA college basketball tournament brackets will soon be whittled down to a Final Four.
This year, Glastonbury High School cheerleading has their own Final Four in senior captains Holly Barbieri, Taylor Cronin, Lauren Gallagher, and Lucy Talbot.
Cheerleading, which performs in both the fall and winter with tournament competitions taking place at the end of the winter season, was greatly impacted by the pandemic over the last 24-months.
Both sessions during the 2020-2021 school-year were reduced to individual work and competition in the winter of 2021 was completely nixed.
Covid-restrictions not only halted competition but the GHS program suffered as well as some cheerleaders quit the sport, leaving the Guardians with the only four remaining cheerleaders from the class of 2022.
The four embraced the challenge and had made the most of the situation, creating a group chat between them entitled, “The Final Four”.
The team finished 2nd overall in the Central Connecticut Conference (CCC)-West and 4th overall in the entire CCC.
Together they formed a collective unit and individually they each brought something unique to the team.
Barbieri has been cheering for the past five years, performing a year at the youth level before joining the team at GHS.
She said that the friendship between the four made it easier to bring the stunt groups together, connecting the team on a deeper level.
“We definitely tried to make the team more positive and upbeat because of the way Covid affected us,” said Barbieri. “We tried to do team bonding as much as we could and we tried to make the season more fun.”
Barbieri, who was also part of the Interact Club at GHS, enjoys horseback riding and said she can be found “mainly at the barn” when she is not performing cheer.
She is undecided on her next venture but said she may head to West Virginia for college to study Agricultural Business.
Cronin has been cheering for a decade, dating back to the second grade, but said she struggled with last year’s restrictions and ended up not participating.
She added that it took a little bit to get back into a groove this season, noting that most of the new girls had little to no experience in competitions.
“We came back strong. It was a special year. We had to come together and work really hard, which made it so much more special because where we started,” said Cronin, who has also coached youth cheerleading in Glastonbury. “We depended on each other a lot and all the struggles we would communicate with each other. Having each other was a really important part of the season.”
Cronin is an outdoor enthusiast that is looking into colleges out of state, leaning towards a major in psychology or social work.
Gallagher, who started cheering as a freshman, agreed that it took time for the team’s chemistry to come back this winter.
“We started off very distant from each other. We depended on the seniors a lot last year, so we were trying to fill that void and trying to figure out where we fit into it. Once that happened we started getting along really well,” said Gallagher. “We had a good team this year. We had to work really hard but we had so much fun together.”
She added that the seniors had a big responsibility to mentor the younger girls, adding that it made the season even more rewarding.
Gallagher, an avid reader who also participated in Big Siblings at GHS, is undecided on which college but wants to pursue nursing.
Talbot has been cheering since middle school and joined the GHS cheer after moving from Texas prior to her freshman year.
She said that each year at GHS has been different, adding, “Every year you get to know the girls so well and you remember those years by the people you are with and the friends you make.”
Talbot, who described herself as a leader who likes to have fun and get into a little bit of trouble, said this year’s squad was unforgettable.
“Every girl has something unique about them. They are all unique and special to me,” said Talbot. “I feel like I will miss each and every bond. I had a lot of fun with the freshmen coming in this year. They are silly and I am silly.”
Talbot, who has a passion for singing and is part of the Choir and Art Club at GHS, is looking at colleges all over the country and is leaning towards heading south for school.
It was a roller coaster month for the Newington girls’ basketball team.
After finishing the regular season with a 19-1 record, they lost on a buzzer-beating shot in the Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) championship game on Feb. 24.
The Nor’easters quickly turned the page by winning three state tournament games, including an emotional semifinals victory to reach the state championship before falling to Notre Dame-Fairfield, 60-45, in the Class L title game at Mohegan Sun Arena on March 19.
It was the program’s first state championship appearance since 1993.
After eliminating Bristol Central and Guilford in the opening rounds of the state tourney, Newington reached the title game by defeating E.O. Smith, 35-34, in a memorable semifinal showdown at Plainville High School on March 14.
Newington, the top-seed in Class L, held off a pesky Panthers from Storrs, who entered as the No. 5-seed.
In a game that was eerily similar to the team’s CCC loss to East Hartford, the Nor’easters flipped the script in the semifinal win.
Just like the conference finals, it was a low-scoring game and Newington trailed in the fourth.
With E.O. Smith leading by three points with less than three minutes to play in regulation, Newington’s senior captain Lilly Ferguson took over.
Ferguson drilled a three pointer from the top of the arc, tying the game at 34 with 2:46 left in regulation.
After a series of miscues by both teams, E.O. Smith’s Kate McAvoy was called for a carry, giving possession back to Newington with 37.2 left on the clock.
Newington held possession for the next 34 seconds before Karissa Zocco was fouled, sending the seasoned senior to the line for a pair of foul shots.
“I was super nervous,” said Zocco. “I knew if I make one of these we’re going to Mohegan and I knew if I missed the season could potentially be over. I didn’t want that for me or the team. I just had to go out there and make one for the team.”
Zocco calmly made the first free throw before missing the second, causing a scramble for a loose ball which drained the rest of the clock.
“That is a moment that she has been waiting for her entire career here at Newington. I knew she would knock down the shot,” said Newington head coach Tancredi.
Ferguson, who scored a game-high 16 points, said she was not about to let the Nor'easters lose for a second time in heartbreaking fashion.
“We’ve been through this before, we didn’t want the same thing to happen, we didn’t want the same outcome. I told the girls ‘let's not have this happen again’. We were getting to Mohegan one way or another,” said Ferguson, who added that she had full trust in Zocco. “I knew she was going to make it. She always comes through in the clutch. She’s my sister; she’s literally my best friend. I had all the faith in her.”
In the CCC championship loss to East Hartford, Newington held the ball for nearly the entire last minute of the game and Ferguson made a pair of clutch free throws to put the team up two before the Hornets made a miraculous baseline three to win.
“Every game and every situation is a learning experience,” Tancredi recalled about the last-second loss to East Hartford.
Zocco added, “That East Hartford game really prepared us for this one. I am super proud of these girls; we’ve worked hard all season. The coaching staff has been amazing and we have great fans that come out and support us. It was a well-earned win.”
In the state championship game, Newington played brilliantly on the defensive end in the first half and took a 22-20 lead into the break.
However, the high-powered Lancers of Notre Dame-Fairfield started the second half on a 17-6 run before cementing it away by beginning the fourth with a 8-2 spurt.
Aizhanique Mayo scored a game-high 22 for the Lancers.
Freshman Bela Cucuta led the Nor’easters with 13 points and Ferguson added a dozen.
The loss ended the high school careers for Ferguson and four other seniors; [Karissa] Zocco, Marlie Zocco, Arianna Barnes, and Adriana Romano.
All five played critical roles for Tancredi, who took over four years ago when the departing seniors were incoming freshmen.
The handful of seniors also each played in the championship game, including Romano who was sidelined with an injury for a majority of the second half of the season but was able to dress and play the final minute at Mohegan.
It’s a group that Tancredi said he will not soon forget.
“It has been such a joy to coach this team and this senior group,” said Tancredi, ““I love them. They’ve meant everything to the program.”
Bela Cucuta / Lilly Ferguson
Newington co-op ice hockey won the program’s third state championship in history, defeating Conard 3-1 on March 17 at the People’s United Center in Hamden.
After a scoreless first period, things heated up in the second period after Conard’s Brady Norris found the back of the net with 14:03 to play in the period.
At the 6:15 mark of the second, Tyler Leavitt tallied the equalizer for Newington when he slid his stick under a bouncing puck before going top-shelf. Less than 20 second later, Andrew Stribling scored the go-ahead goal for the Nor’easters when he rebounded a deflected shot and poked the puck into the back of the net for a 2-1 lead.
Stribling added an empty-netter in the closing seconds of play in regulation to put an exclamation point on the state title.
The Newington co-op—which includes players from Newington, Cromwell, Berlin, Canton, and Manchester— was the No. 2 ranked team entering the state tournament after winning 17 of 20 regular season games. They eliminated the Rocky Hill co-op (7-2) in the first round, Staples (2-1) in the quarterfinals, and Barlow co-op (5-1) in the semifinals to reach the state title games.
Leavitt, Braeden Humphrey, Nickolas Giotsas, Blake Blackwood, and Jack Reynolds are the five seniors whose final game with the Nor’easters ended with a state championship celebration.
Cromwell senior Ginaluca Albert, pictured against Granby in the state semifinals, led the Panthers in scoring this season
A two-point quarter is hard to overcome.
Leading 31-25 at the half, Cromwell boys’ basketball scored only one bucket in the third quarter as Granby Memorial erased the six-point halftime deficit before winning 59-48 at New Britain High School in the Division IV semifinals.
The victory advanced the No. 4-seed Bears to the state championship game and eliminated the top-seeded Panthers.
“I think we made some mental mistakes and we had some bad turnovers. We missed some shots that we normally make, but that’s part of the game,” Cromwell head coach John Pinone said. “Got to give [Granby] credit, they made some plays and made some tough shots and beat us today.”
The second-half struggles were not indicative of the season as a whole for the Panthers. It was also far different from how the game started.
Cromwell made their first four shots and jumped out to a 9-2 lead within the first few minutes of the contest.
Gianluca Albert hit a baseline pull-up and also set up Sam Stergos for a layup. JJ Feehan canned a mid-range jumper and a three pointer during the Panthers hot start, sending Cromwell’s packed student section into an early frenzy.
Albert scored 10 of his team-high 13 points in the first half as the Panthers maintained the lead for the entire first half.
Things turned coming out of the locker room as the Bears scored the first 11 points of the third quarter.
A layup from Victor Payne temporarily stopped the bleeding, before Granby netted the last six points of the quarter, outscoring Cromwell 16-2 in the quarter and taking a 42-33 lead into the final frame.
Granby’s Josh Brown scored 11 of his game-high 26 points in the pivotal quarter.
“We were only down by a little bit [at half] and we kept fighting the whole way,” said Brown. “We knew it was going to be a tough game but honestly I thought we were the better team and we showed it today.”
Brown and backcourt mate Justin Phillips (17 points) were spectacular in the win. The senior duo scored or set-up a majority of Granby’s points.
“We had some tough matchups out there with their guards,” said Pinone, who added the team allowed the aggressive Bears some easy looks in the second half. “They are quick. We had length and we tried to keep them in front of us, but that’s a lot easier said than done.”
Pinone added that the Panthers had some scoring opportunities in the third quarter but the shots just didn’t fall, which he referred to as “demoralizing.”
“Not making any excuses. [Granby] played much better than us in the second half.” he added.
The loss ended the season for Cromwell, who won 19 of 20 regular season games and captured the Shoreline Conference (SLC) for the first time since 2019.
It was the final game for five seniors; Albert, Feehan, Stergos, Louis Friend, and Connor McMillan. Albert led the team in scorer and was honored as the SLC Player of the Year in early March. Feehan made the SLC Honorable Mention team and Payne, a sophomore, made the SLC 2nd Team.
After graduating all five starters and the first two players off the bench a season ago, Pinone and his staff didn’t know what to expect out of the team this winter.
Pinone’s message to his team following the defeat was encouraging.
“I told them they have a lot to be proud of. No one starting with their coach thought they’d be 24-2 and win the tourney title,” the longtime coach said. “I don’t think anyone saw this coming. They are still disappointed obviously that we couldn't get one more to get to Mohegan, but sometimes life is tough.”
Bacon Academy girls’ basketball is heading back to the Mohegan Sun Arena for the second time in a month after winning a pair of memorable state tournament games.
The Bobcats defeated Cromwell 45-29 on March 8 and then eliminated East Hampton 30-26 on March 14, earning a spot in the Class M championship game, slated for this weekend against Holy Cross.
Last Tuesday night’s win over Cromwell was bittersweet for seniors Valerie Luizzi and Emma Mancuso.
The bitter part was they were playing their final game at Dave Shea Gymnasium inside Bacon Academy High School and the sweet part was the 16-point triumph over the Panthers in the Class M quarterfinals.
“It was crazy to run out here the last time. It’s crazy because the last four years have gone by wicked fast,” said Mancuso
Luizzi added, “I definitely wanted to leave it out there and give it my all. I knew it could be our last game, so I wanted to go out with a bang.”
After falling behind in the early stages of the game, the Bobcats roared back with a 15-2 run to end the first quarter.
Luizzi had a nifty baseline layup to give the home team a 19-6 advantage early in the second quarter and then later canned a three pointer, sparking a 9-3 run.
Junior Marissa Nudd banked in a shot to beat the first half buzzer, giving the home team a 27-14 advantage at the break.
Ashley Lizotte, the team’s third senior, has been sidelined with an injury. During her recovery, she has become another coach on the sidelines, showing support for her fellow seniors and mentoring her younger teammates.
“We have been playing together forever and we have great team chemistry. We can all count on each other when we are out here. It’s great knowing we are a team and even though Ashley is hurt, she is just as much a part of the team than we are. We are also playing for her as well,” added Luizzi.
In Lizotte’s absence, a group of young players have emerged. Sophomore Emily Ferrigno, along with freshmen Katelyn Novak and Elizabeth Glover are all logging big minutes and contributing on the court.
Starting sophomore Cara Shea has also shouldered more of a load.
“They are great under fire. We’ve had to put them in because we’ve had a lot of injuries all year,” Bacon Academy head coach John Shea said. “We have been through a lot of tough stuff so we just have to play who we’ve got and they’ve played a lot older than they are.”
Mancuso said that the younger girls have fit right in, adding. “They have stepped up and we couldn't do it without them.”
Luizzi opened the third quarter by knocking down her second from beyond the arc thanks to a beautiful crosscourt inbounds pass from Ferrigno. The Bobcats eventually opened up a 36-16 lead in the third before cruising to the comfortable victory.
Nudd scored a game-high 18 points and Luizzi finished with 14 to supply a bulk of the offense, but it was the team’s defensive effort that made the difference.
Bacon used a trapping zone defense, doubling and sometimes tripling the ball, particularly in the corners. Cromwell, who came in averaging 52 points per game, was held to a season-low in points and limited to 18% shooting from the field, hitting only 11 of 62 shots.
“[Defense] was a big key tonight,” said coach Shea, who added that he put in the trapping defense recently. “It worked pretty well. We just have to keep working at it and get better at it.”
Mancuso said that the Bobcats knew they had to be more aggressive team than the Panthers, adding “They are obviously a physical team so we knew to win the game we had to get on the ground, get loose balls, and grab rebounds.”
The victorious home finale propelled the Bobcats into the next round where they would edge the Bellringers of East Hampton at Plainville High School—the neutral site for the semifinals showdown.
Again the Bobcats fell behind early on, tallying only three points in the first quarter.
Luizzi, who was held scoreless in the opening quarter, hit a straight away triple on Bacon’s first possession of the second quarter to start the rally.
At halftime, Luizzi went into a phone booth and put on her cape before scoring seven straight points early in the third quarter to bring the Bobcats within one.
“We knew they were going to come out strong,” Luizzi said. “This is one of the closest games we’ve had and we knew we couldn't rush or make bad passes. We just needed to take control of the game and make it at our speed.”
With two minutes left in the third quarter, Mancuso hit a mid-range jumper to give the Bobcats their first lead of the game at 20-19.
The team’s battled back and forth down the stretch before Nudd put the Bobcats up for good when she made a spinning layup with 5:58 to play in regulation.
Leading 28-26, Luizzi was fouled with 4.6 seconds remaining and calmly sank both free throws to finish off the Bellringers.
“I was nervous but we’ve been practicing them every day. Marissa told me ‘just like in practice’,” Luizzi said of the free throws. “I decided to clear my head of every thought and just go for it.”
Luizzi scored a game-high 17 points, a dozen coming in the second half. She outscored the Bellringers (12-10) by herself over the final 16 minutes.
Next up is the championship game against the undefeated Crusaders of Holy Cross, who enter the title tilt 23-0. Tip-off is slated for 10 a.m on Sunday, March 20 at Mohegan.
It will mark the first time the Bobcats have been in the state title game since 2017 and they are seeking their first state championship since 2012.
Following a loss to New London in the Easter Connecticut Conference (ECC) finals at Mohegan Sun on Feb. 22, Bacon Academy’s road back to the casino was straight forward, needing to win three state tournament games.
They did just that, leaning on a stout defense and limiting the trio of tourney opponents below 30 points per game.
In order for Bacon’s second time around the sun to yield championship results they will need a similar defensive performance against the Crusaders, who are averaging 71 points per game.
Win or lose, coach Shea will have his three seniors beside him for the final time.
“They've been a joy to coach,” said Shea. “They are great leaders and they do everything academically and they are really good ball players and captains. I’ve enjoyed it and I’m lucky to have them.”
RHAM’s Matthew Fraleigh defends Ledyard’s Caden Whipple during the Raptors tournament loss on March 10
Ledyard boys’ basketball eliminated RHAM 50-45 in the second round of the Division III state tournament on March 10 at RHAM High School.
It ended a successful season for the Raptors, who won 18 games in head coach Todd Dean’s first year on the sidelines.
The teams were mirror images of one another, using deep rotations and playing at a breakneck pace with attacking styles on both ends of the court.
When it mattered most, it was the visiting Colonels performance in the clutch that made the difference.
“They just made plays at the right times and we didn’t. They deserved to win the game,” said Dean.
RHAM, who entered the tourney at the No. 5 seed and earned a first round bye, showed fight after falling behind 12-2 in the first quarter to the No. 12 ranked Colonels.
The Raptors slowly clawed their way back into the game behind senior captain Jimmy Hulland, who scored 9 of his team-high 16 points in the first half.
Hulland drilled a three pointer to break a four-minute scoring drought in the first quarter, prompting a 20-11 run.
Late in the first half, sophomore backup point guard Troy Miller scored six straight points, the last two on a euro step in transition after receiving a perfect outlet pass from Patrick Kelly.
After playing a first quarter filled with miscues, the Raptors were only down by three at the half and took their first lead of the game at the 2:49 mark of the third quarter when Kelly made a pair of free throws to give the home team a 30-29 advantage.
Hulland made two more free throws to increase the lead before Ledyard ended the quarter on a 7-2 run, highlighted by a buzzer-beating baseline three pointer from reserve Caden Whipple.
Whipple led the Colonels with 16 points
“Caden is a huge leader. He is a guy who I projected to start all season but he had a shaky start and he came up and told me for the betterment of the team I want to come off the bench,” said Ledyard head coach D.J. Exum, “Every game that he has come off the bench, we’ve had big wins.”
The momentum of Whipple’s three carried over into the final frame as Ledyard increased the lead to 41-34 before the resilient Raptors made one final push.
Hulland stole a pass and fed a streaking Spencer Pilkington for a breakaway flush. Hulland then made a contested jumper and canned a deep three from the baseline to narrow the deficit to 44-42 with 3:36 to play.
The turning point was on the following possession when Hulland stole another pass and pushed the ball ahead to Kelly who was called for an offensive charge as he elevated for a layup in the key. One official called a charge and the other official appeared to call a block. However, after a short conference the call of an offensive charge stood.
Ledyard scored on the next two times down on the court on layups from Dorell Cagle and Jonah Eddy.
Matthew Fraleigh drilled a deep three to again bring RHAM within three, but a late turnover and a pair of free throws from Ledyard ultimately made the difference in the final minute.
“Kudos to RHAM; they handled everything we threw at them and they came right back. I was really shocked. I didn’t know if they would handle our pressure but they came out and fought,” added Exum, who is also in his first year coaching at Ledyard. “We are built on trust. [The players] have a trust in me and I have trust in them. We have a survival mentality.”
RHAM, who played an exciting style of basketball all year, was hurt most by untimely mistakes in the tournament loss.
“I think we left a lot out there in terms of points with missed layups and free throws and not getting rebounds. Those happen in games but I thought they cost when it mattered,” said Dean.
The tough tourney defeat was the final game for seven seniors; Hulland, Kelly, Pilkington, Aidan Allen, Mike Poncini, Ryan McLaughlin, Alexander Demosthenous.
Dean said the seven departing players helped him put his stamp on the program and was a big reason for the success this season, adding, “They meant a lot to us. I thought they brought a lot of experience to the program. Getting to know them initially was a process but I think their leadership with the team will rub off on the guys returning. We will surely miss them next season.”
Overall, Dean thought it was a solid initial season, adding, “If you told me we would be 18-5 at the end of the season I think anyone would sign up for that. I thought we could be successful and win some games this year and the team bought into [my philosophy] and most nights it paid off, but tonight it didn’t.”
The GHS girls 4x800 relay team (l-r) Kylie Hilliard, Ava Gattinella, Annika Paluska, and Brooke Strauss won the New England Championships in Boston on March 5.
The list of accomplishments for the Glastonbury High School girls’ track and field program is ever-growing. Just when you think the season is over, the hits keep coming.
The Guardians, who won the Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) and Class LL championships as a team, added one more piece of hardware to the trophy case when the 4x800 relay team surprised even themselves by winning the New England Championships in Boston on March 5.
Annika Paluska, Kylie Hilliard, Ava Gattinella, and Brooke Strauss ran a season-best 9:29.14 to hold off a field of schools and runners from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine.
“It’s fun to watch them in practice and see them get this end result,” said GHS running coach Brian Gaudreau. “They worked hard.”
Even more impressive is that it’s a young group, featuring three underclassmen.
Hilliard, a senior, is the team’s veteran and bookend her high school indoor track career with trips to Boston.
“It was great for me personally because my freshmen year I was able to go to New Englands,” said Hilliard. “I didn’t expect to go back. It was nice returning and getting the beginning and end.”
Paluska, a sophomore, ran lead for the relay team.
“I was excited finishing up the first leg. I was completely and utterly shocked when we were in first. It was a cool feeling,” said Paluska, “It’s always nice when you’re running that you are not doing it alone. You have the entire team behind you and you’re running it as one.”
Hilliard and Gattinella maintained the team’s lightning pace before Strauss, the relay’s anchor, easily erased a deficit as the team finished ahead of runner-up Brookline High School of Massachusetts by nearly a full second.
“I saw the people who were in front of me and I knew I had four laps to try and get in front. It’s fun to chase people down,” said Strauss, a freshman.
Gattinella, a sophomore, said winning as a relay team is extra special, adding, “When we found out we won we were hugging each other and didn’t stop smiling for an hour after. It felt great when everyone was taking our pictures and we got to stand on the podium.”
The Guardians entered the regional tournament as the seventh-seed based on best times during the state competition.
Despite the seeding, the relay team was calm, cool, and collected prior to the race. The four warmed up by taking a lap around the track at the Reggie Lewis Center and decided to cross paths as they ran, high-fiving each other along the way.
Paluska said the routine got her “motivated to run”, adding, “Going into it I thought we had a chance to place, but I was not expecting to place where we did. It was definitely a surprise. We were a little confused at the end, we didn’t think we won. We were all in shock.”
Both the first-place finish and the weekend long trip were memorable, especially for Hilliard.
Hilliard referred to the trip as “last time; best time”, adding, “It was nice to be with my friends and accomplish what we did as a team. I really enjoyed it because I knew it was going to be my last time.”
It was the latest in a string of postseason accomplishments for the GHS relay teams, who also took home a title in the 1600 Sprint Medley at the State Open.
At the New England Championships, the Guardians 4x200 relay—Hannah Caiola, Riley Carroll, Meghan Smith, and Alayna Taylor— also competed, finishing 13th overall with a time of 1:49.64.
Because of the first-place finish, the 4x8 team advanced to The New Balance Nationals in New York and won the Rising Stars division on March 12.
Strauss ended her indoor track season after the New England Championships and was the only one of the four that was unable to make the trip to the Big Apple.
Jackie Dudus replaced Strauss and Gattinella became the anchor as the team easily won the event inside The Armory in NYC, finishing with a time of 9:30.61, over a full second faster than runner-up Hilliard Davidson High School from Ohio.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin