Newington coach Marc Tancredi and senior Ashanti Frazier flank an empty chair the team dedicated to Kobe Bryant during the Indians 52-29 victory over Rocky Hill last Tuesday
It was an emotional, yet celebratory night for Ashanti Frazier and the Newington girls’ basketball team, who defeated Rocky Hill 52-29 at RHHS last Tuesday night, improving the Indians to 11-2.
Frazier, who grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant, was playing ger first game since the untimely passing of the Los Angeles Lakers legend, his 13-year old daughter, and seven others aboard a helicopter that crashed in California on January 26.
“He was a mentor, someone that I looked up to, someone I wanted to base my game off of. When I found out the news, I was completely distraught,” stated Frazier, who said a prayer for the entire Bryant family during a moment of silence.
Once the ball tipped, Frazier was laser-focused, attacking the basket and distributing to open teammates to combat Rocky Hill’s zone defense. The senior was efficient, hitting 7 of 11 shots, scoring 17 points and adding 6 assists, 5 steals, and one emphatic block to start the second half.
“She always wants to get her teammates involved. She wants to make plays for them to get them confident and continue to build off that confidence,” Newington head coach Marc Tancredi said of his senior star, “She could score at will, but she’s not looking to score at all times. She’s been a great floor general and has controlled the tempo for us throughout the whole season.”
Frazier hit a short jumper to start the game before dishing several crisp passes to cutting teammates, providing the road team a comfortable lead.
“My mentality is always team-first, get everyone their looks and try to get everyone playing well,” stated Frazier, “This game we started off slow, so I wanted to get everyone ready and activated to play.”
The recipient on many of Frazier’s dimes where forwards Alexie Armour and Sabrina Soler, who each scored nine and have solidified the frontline for Tancredi, “They’ve done tremendous. They’ve definitely filled that hole up, missing Olivia [St. Remy] and Maya [Gajowiak] from last year. They stepped in from day one and handle the boards for us and played well down low. I’ve been really happy with the production that they’ve had so far.”
Armour, the team’s leading rebounder, grabbed 10 more on Tuesday night.
Soler scored six of her points in the first quarter as Newington jumped out to a 20-9 lead after the first eight minutes.
The Indians pulled away in the second half thanks to a terrific defensive effort, limiting the Terriers to two points in the third quarter. Frazier set the defensive tone within the first minute of the second half when she swatted a layup attempt into the bleachers near Rocky Hill’s bench.
Tuesday’s 23-point win eased the sting of a 56-40 loss at Wethersfield in their previous game, which snapped a six-game winning streak.
“We just had to continue pushing forward and couldn’t dwell on the loss. We knew we could play a lot better and we just had to continue sticking to our principles of what we’ve done from day one,” said Tancredi, reflecting on the loss to Wethersfield.
Against Rocky Hill, Tancredi was without sharp-shooting sophomore Karissa Zocco, who is the team’s second leading scorer, “Karissa is huge for us but at the same time I was confident that we’d have other people step into that role and give us what we needed to win tonight. We’re hoping she comes back healthy, but it helped us go to our bench and get these younger girls some experience on a varsity level.”
Frazier added, “These division wins are always big so it’s important that we got this one. Wethersfield always stings a little when you lose, but I’m looking forward to playing them at the end of the season and hopefully to try and tie the division.”
The four-year starter called this season her “farewell tour”. It’s a senior season that has already been filled with plenty of memorable moments.
Frazier surpassed the career 1000-point mark in a win over East Catholic on Jan 16. She also had a game-winning shot in a victory over Windsor and a buzzer-beater to knock off Bristol Eastern earlier this season.
“Everything about this game is so special and important to me, especially wearing a Newington jersey every night. It’s just so valuable to me that I’m able to do these things every night and able to wear this jersey and represent my team.”
Her performance against Rocky Hill was the latest stop on the tour and was a little extra special because of the events that shook the entire basketball community a few days earlier.
To honor Kobe, Newington’s bench lined up an empty chair with a Lakers #24 jersey draped over the top and Frazier wrote “R.I.P. Kobe Bryant #24 #8 #10” and “R.I.P. Gigi Bryant #2” on her shoes in dedication to her idol and his daughter, Gianna.
In defeat, Rocky Hill fell to 2-11. Olivia Augeri led the Terriers with 13 points, while Aleksa Peterson added 7 and Peggy Minga scored 6. The team plays four of their final five at home, starting with Bulkeley/Weaver on Thurs, Feb 6.
Newington also plays four or the final five regular season games at home, closing with the highly anticipated rematch against Wethersfield on Tue, Feb 18.
Frazier said she’d like to see the team start faster down the stretch, “Learning to go in with a full head of steam every game. For some reason we are always a little slow before we get into our groove or we play a good first quarter and then play lackadaisical the rest of the game. We just have to go in and play our game for 32 minutes.”
“It’s just about getting better execution,” added Tancredi, “I still think we haven’t peaked and I think we can get there but it’s going to take hard work in practice and mental toughness and hopefully we can get there before the postseason.”
Newington closed the week by picking up win #12, defeating Hall 52-27 last Friday.
Frazier led the way with 19 points, eight rebounds, and three steals. Armour added 13 points and seven rebounds.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin