Wethersfield's junior guard Vanessa Venditti passes the ball during the Eagles 58-44 loss to NWC on Jan. 25
Northwest Catholic used a 16-0 run in the first quarter to take an early lead and never looked back as the visiting Lions defeated Wethersfield girls’ basketball 58-44 last Tuesday, Jan. 25 at WHS.
NWC seniors Morgan Murphy (23 points) and Brianna Lebrun (19) did a majority of the scoring damage. The duo combined to score all 25 of the team’s first quarters points.
“What has frustrated me to this point is that we are usually able to take away a team’s best player, but it’s been the opposite against us this year,” said Wethersfield head coach Jeff Russell. “Every team’s best player has had their best night against us. Our scouting report that we give is not appearing on the court.”
Trailing by 17 after the first, Wethersfield chipped away at the deficit several times but couldn't get any closer than seven points.
Mackenzie Mori came off the bench to lead the Eagles with 11 points, including seven in the second quarter as the home team outscored the visitors 17-10. Mori led a 9-point run in the quarter, hitting a floater and knocking down a three-pointer on back-to-back possessions. The run narrowed the gap to 30-23, which was the closest they would get the rest of the night.
In an effort to get the ball out of the hands of Murphy and Lebrun, Russell used a press from the onset, rotating in several players and digging deep into his bench.
“We wanted to force them to play fast because they really struggle to play fast, but if you don’t do the second half of it which is have a body on the post it doesn’t matter how fast you get them to play,” said Russell, who watched Lebrun torch his team for 16 point in the first quarter. “If you don’t have a body on her, she is going to get an offensive rebound and score. They killed us with that and they killed us from the foul line tonight.”
Missed layups and turnovers doomed the Eagles in the second half.
Northwest Catholic sophomore Maeve Rushin, who is the daughter of Connecticut basketball legend Rebecca Lobo, scored eight of her 10 points in the second half to secure the victory.
Russell’s deep rotation allowed nine Eagles players to breaking into the scoring column but the team could only muster a total of 19 points in the second half.
Vanessa Venditti, who scored eight in the first half, received a lot of attention defensively and was limited to two points after the break.
Russell said Venditti has done well as the primary scorer and the team is still searching for a secondary scorer to alleviate some of the pressure.
“We have a lot of kids that work really, really hard but what we lack are pure basketball players,” added Russell. “What we’ve gotten away with in the past is being really deep defensively and then on offense we have the basketball kids that can take over.”
After allowing 25 points in the opening quarter, the Eagles played much better on the defensive end, allowing only 33 points the rest of the way.
A young bench, featuring Mori and fellow sophomores Avery Ford and Sophie Adams, brought some much needed energy to the court.
Ford was a force defensively, coming up with several deflections which started transition opportunities for Wethersfield.
Russell said Ford does a lot more right than wrong and has a high IQ for an underclassman, “A few games ago she stepped in and played phenomenal for us against Windsor and really led the comeback to give us a chance.”
Prior to the Northwest game, the Eagles were coming off a convincing win over Rocky Hill (65-30) and a hard-fourth loss against powerhouse Windsor. Venditti combined for 40 points in the two games, including canning a half dozen three-pointers against Windsor.
Russell added that the team has to find other ways to win this year. The sixth year coach had a championship-worthy team in 2020 that was preparing to play in the Class L quarterfinals prior to the COVID-cancellation. Russell said this season’s team differs from that 2019-2020 team, which featured three all-conference players.
“Our schedule is based on what we did a few years ago. We’ve faced two top-ten teams this year and our players are being tasked with some incredibly difficult stuff,” said Russell
His goal is to have the team play disciplined defensively and hopefully create easy buckets on the offensive end.
Following the loss to NWC, the Eagles responded with back-to-back road games against Berlin and Rockville, bringing their record to 7-5.
Defense was the catalyst in the wins, holding the teams to 28 and 29 points respectively. Venditti combined for 24 points in the two wins, including going 4-4 from behind the arc in the win over Rockville.
The Eagles return to WHS this Friday, Feb. 4, for an important Central Connecticut Conference tilt with Middletown. The game tips at 6:45 p.m.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin