Cromwell's Janelle Harrison at the charity stripe
The Cromwell Panthers left Clinton on December 13th with a humbling 54-44 loss at the hands of the Morgan Huskies. To any other team, losing the second game of the season would be a ho-hum experience, but it was significant for head coach Kelly Maher and her Panther girls. The loss was Cromwell’s first in 29 games and helped refocused a team that is pursuing back-to-back championships.
Since the loss, Cromwell had reeled off 13 wins in a row. Last Thursday, the Panthers had a chance at redemption against the Clinton-based school and this time they had home court advantage on their side. Using the energetic home crowd at Salafin Gymnasium, which one spectator referred to as the sixth-man, Cromwell delivered a dramatic 49-47 victory.
From the opening tip it appeared that Cromwell would cruise to an easy victory, scoring the game’s first 12 points and blanking Morgan until the 1:08 mark of the first quarter. However, the Huskies used a 9-0 run to claw their way back into the game by deploying a full-court trapping defense that seemed to frustrate the normally polished Panthers.
Once the second quarter began, Cromwell was able to beak Morgan’s defensive press and minimized their scoring runs for the rest of the half, holding a comfortable 26-12 advantage entering the third quarter.
Undeterred, Morgan scored the first 10 points of the second half, seven scored by point guard Sami Ashton, which helped deadlock the score at 33 as the third quarter came to a close. Ashton, with her relentless effort and ability to push the tempo of the Huskies’ offense, was a major reason that the Huskies stayed competitive. The sophomore finished with 19 points, six rebounds, four assists, and a pair of blocks and steals. Her counterpart, Emily Appleby was just as relentless. Cromwell’s senior captain played a terrific all-around game and kept her Panther teammates composed when Morgan made one of their many spurts.
Feeling as if the momentum had swung in the favor of Morgan, the standing room only crowd began the fourth quarter with the chant of “D-Fence”. Cromwell delivered, forcing Morgan into two consecutive turnovers. The Panthers scored the final stanzas first five points, all by senior captain Janelle Harrison, who finished with a game-high 21 points and nine rebounds.
One final time, Morgan shook off the Panthers’ burst and fought their way back into the game with 10-4 run. The visitors took their first lead of the game when junior Jen Dawson grabbed an offensive rebound and banked in a shot with 2:27 left in the game. The rebound put-back gave Morgan a 45-43 lead.
Cromwell tied the game at 45 when Nicole Rojas threaded a perfect pass to Alyssa Wright, who made an uncontested layup with 1:03 to play. The assist was one of three on the night for Rojas, who also tallied 11 points.
Morgan’s Lily Dawson gave the Huskies the lead right back when she knifed through the Panthers’ defense and finished with a finger roll off the backboard.
Down by two, Cromwell set up a play for the all-conference Harrison, who took the ball to the middle of the key and hit a leaning jump shot, which was immediately proceeded by a whistle. It appeared at first glance that the official had called Harrison for an offensive charge, which perturbed the home crowd, but the official actually called a blocking foul on the Huskies, giving Harrison a chance at an old fashioned three-point play. Harrison calmly sank the free-throw to give the home team the lead back, 48-47.
With 25 seconds remaining, Morgan was unable to score on their next possession and Harrison grabbed the defensive rebound, before being fouled. Harrison split the pair of three-throws and a desperation heave from Ashton fell shot, preserving the Cromwell victory.
The win improved Cromwell to 15-1 and they’ll have three more tune-up games until the tournament starts. They could end up facing their new rival Morgan (13-2) again in the postseason, which would be played at a neutral site. Two of Cromwell’s final three games will be at home, starting with Coginchaug Regional on Thursday. The Panthers struggled offensively, but dominated defensively in their first meeting with Coginchaug, en route to a 39-24 victory on Jan 10. Tip for the rematch game will be at 7 p.m.
Ice Hockey Roundup
Newington Tournament Bound
The Newington-Berlin-Manchester hockey team has been a pillar of success in the high school hockey scene for the last decade. They finished the 2011-2012 season with a state championship and are gearing up for another title run this season.
The Indians (10-3-1) have a fantastic mix of senior leadership and vibrant underclassman patrolling the ice. Junior forward Dante Gugliotti has scored in every game this season, tallying 10 goals and 11 assists in 14 games. Gugliotti is being flanked by senior captain Matt Harachiewicz, who has doled out 12 assists, including a season-high three assist performance in a 7-4 victory over cross-town rival Wethersfield on February 1st.
Senior Tom Woods and junior Cam Criniti are taking turns between the pipes for the Indians. Each goalie has a shutout this season, with Woods registering shutouts against Wethersfield and Farmington, while Criniti blanked Bolton in early January.
Newington has four more games before the tournament. Two of the final four games will be at the Newington Ice Arena, with Suffield-Granby-Windsor Locks coming to town on Saturday, Feb 22. Face-off will be at 7:20 p.m.
Rocky Hill Turning the Corner
Eric Tiexera is in his first season as the head coach of the Rocky Hill-RHAM-Middletown hockey team. He was an assistant for four seasons, but he’s now the head honcho on the bench and is hoping to take the team to the next level.
The Terriers started 0-5, but has won two of their last five games, giving the Terriers an outside chance to make the tournament. The slow start could be attributed to the lack of seniors on the roster. Only three seniors suit up for the three-town team, who are hoping to surpass last season’s win total of four.
They have seven more regular season games remaining to make their tournament move. Their home games are played at Champions Rink in Cromwell and the next chance to catch the team in action will be Wednesday, Feb 19th. They will take on a four-school team in Rockville-Bolton-Coventry-Lyman Memorial. Face-off for the hockey royal rumble will be at 8 p.m.
Wethersfield’s Blades of Steel
The Wethersfield Eagles lost their first eight games this season, but have since rebounded with two wins in their last five games. Both victories came against cross-town rival Rocky Hill.
Senior Billy Conner has paced the team all season with his steady play. The 6’2” forward has 11 points (four goals and seven assists). He has also provided leadership for a team with a lot of younger player on the ice.
One of those younger players is protecting the net for the Eagles. Freshman Joe Sitarz has assumed a bulk of the responsibilities at goalie and is delivering the goods. He had an amazing 39 save performance against Newington-Berlin earlier this month and allowed only three combined goals in the two victories over Rocky Hill-RHAM-Middletown.
Wethersfield has two more home games remaining, including a date with Suffield-Granby-Windsor Locks on Wednesday, Feb 19. The Eagles play their home games at Newington Arena and the face-off for the conference clash is at 8:20 p.m.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin