Isabella Samse (left) led the Eagles with 18 points and Alice Kelly (right) scored her 1,000 career point in Wethersfield's 57-36 Class L first round win over Farmington
Scoring your 1,000th career point is special in any setting. Scoring your 1,000 point while winning a state tournament game played at your high school is extra special.
Wethersfield senior Alice Kelly experienced the latter at WHS last Tuesday night, reaching quadruple digits in career points as the #7 Eagles defeated #26 Farmington, 57-36, in the opening round of the Class L tournament.
“Honestly, I had to think about it because I didn’t know,” said Kelly, who netted #1,000 on a layup in the third quarter and only knew she had reached the milestone because the bench erupted.
Kelly’s noteworthy layup was part of a third quarter scoring spree for the Eagles, who went on a 15-2 run over the first three minutes of the second half.
“She might be the most unselfish 1000-point scorer in basketball history because she’s a defensive kid, a pass-first kid, and a play for her teammates kid. For her to get 1,000 on a big stage like this was awesome,” head coach Jeff Russell said of his versatile captain.
Kelly opened the scoring in both the first half and second half with three pointers, finishing the night with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Isabella Samse led all scorers with 18, draining five from beyond the arc.
“We wanted to hit them with the flank and nail mostly because they are more of a smaller team, so we were trying to get it inside to the bigs,” said Samse, “Another focus was getting those inside-out threes and thankfully we hit some.”
Farmington deployed a zone defense to slow the Eagles, but Russell countered by putting senior Grace Conneely near the basket to disrupt the zone and get easy looks for the home team.
“Grace is one of our better finishers. We didn’t expect them to play 1-3-1, so I have to hand it to our players for staying calm and in real time making the adjustments. We didn’t rush, we didn’t force or get anxious, we worked on our inside-out threes, and we got kids going,” recalled Russell.
Conneely and Nicole Gwynn (14 points) continuously fed the ball between the zone and the team’s ball movement was terrific, often with five players touching the rock on each possession.
“All week we had been prepping for this team. Our coaches did a lot of scouting and we basically were running offenses that worked against their defense. Without our coaches we wouldn’t have been able to do it,” added Samse, who is one of four seniors making a final tourney push, “The coaches just told us that we had to keep our focus, both mentally and physically, and to be ready to take one game at a time.”
Wethersfield earned the 7th-seed in the tournament after finishing the regular season 16-4, which included a 57-37 win over Farmington (6-14) in the season opener.
Despite the discrepancies in win/loss records, Russell knew the dangers of playing a conference opponent in the tournament, “I respect Farmington and coach [Keith] Garbart as much as any team that we play. We were saying leading up to this that Farmington was a team that was going to scare someone in the tournament because they’re really well coach. They have two starters on the team that went to the state championship game two years ago and anytime you’ve got a kid that can score in the 20s it’s tough to defend.”
Senior Rylee Fountain scored 12 points and junior Emma Novajasky added 10 for the Indians.
The two, along with Carolyn Ives, led an 8-0 run to close the first half, narrowing the margin to 25-14 at the break.
Thanks to some halftime tweaks and the determination of the seniors, the Eagles took command early and often in the third.
Kelly knocked down a baseline three, which was followed by another three from Samse.
Gwynn then stole a pass and went coast-to-coast for an easy two.
Kelly broke the 1000-point barrier on the next trip down the court, “We came ready to play today. We’ve been practice all week, playing a zone offense, and I think we got the passes down and our timing on all the cuts. That combined with our defense, we executed well.”
“When the Big 3 are hitting on all cylinders we’re a really tough team to stop,” said Russell, referring to Kelly, Samse, and Gwynn, “They spread out during transitions and it makes it really tough to defend because if you take away the middle and take away Nicole, you’re leaving Bella and Alice on the outside, and if you shade to one side you’re leaving a kickout.”
Samse polished off a 23-point third quarter for the Eagles, scoring the final six points, which included her fifth from downtown.
“She is such a high-motor defender,” Russell said of Samse, who also had four steals, “She’s locked-in and nothing phases her. If she misses a shot, she’ll come down and take the next one. She’s a rhythm shooter and when she’s feeling it, it’s fun to be on the right side of it.”
The lead swelled to 54-23 early in the fourth after buckets from Kelly and Gwynn, which was followed by a nifty reverse layup from Conneely.
It allowed the younger generation to get playing time down the stretch, highlighted by a long three from freshman Anna Griffin.
The win sent the Eagles into round two where they again took care of business at home, using a swarming defense to defeat #23 Guilford 44-25.
With each win, Samse and her fellow seniors are one step closer to a potential trip to Mohegan Sun, “It feels so good and now we just have to make it as far as we can. It’s our last year, so we just want to make sure we keep it going,”
Next up is a quarterfinals showdown at #2 St. Paul (20-2) this Thursday, March 12 at 7 p.m.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin