Coach Kelly Maher and her Cromwell girls’ basketball team played the Stonington Bears in the second-round of the Class M tournament on Thursday night without the services of their co-captain and point guard Emily Appleby. Appleby, who is one of only three seniors on Cromwell’s roster, was feeling under the weather and was forced to miss her second game of the season. Losing your point guard would normal debilitate a team’s ability to function offensively, but Cromwell’s next-girl-up mentality allowed them to overcome her absence and a slow start to easily defeat Stonington, 47-30, at Jake Salafia Gymnasium.
Maher, who has brilliantly coached a team filled with underclassman, did it again Thursday night. The veteran coach decided to deploy an all-freshman backcourt in the second quarter, after a sluggish start and foul trouble allowed the underdog-Bears to take and 14-12 advantage midway through the quarter. First year guards Nikki Bitinaitis and Theresa Quinn helped slow the Stonington offense and gave energy to a team that was missing their backcourt leader.
“They have experience and we have confidence in them,” Maher said about the young guard tandem, “They did what they needed to do and did a great job for us tonight.”
Trailing 20-17 at the half, the Panthers came out of the locker room with a renewed sense of urgency and unleashed a furious offensive assault on the visiting Bears. Cromwell scored the first eight points of the second half and scored more points in the third quarter, 18, than they did in the entire first half. All told, the Panthers outscored the Bears 23-4 over the opening nine minutes of the second half and breezed the rest of the way.
“We were rushing a little bit and looking for entry passes that weren’t there,” Maher said about the team’s first half struggles, “We told the players to relax, take their time, and look for the openings. We just had to rebound the ball, get better passes, and do what we do best.”
All-conference senior standout Janelle Harrison started to do what she does best, scoring 7 points during Cromwell tremendous second-half surge. The sensational center finished the game with a game-high 15 points and 12 rebounds. She also assumed more of the on-court leadership role in Appleby’s absence and was the emotional catalyst behind the team’s turnaround.
The home crowd had become restless prior to Harrison and her Panther teammates finding their rhythm. Early in the first quarter it looked like Stonington could be primed for an upset. Using a full-court press on defense and crisp ball movement on offense, the Bears scored the game’s first five points and stunned the home favorites for most of the first half. However, Maher’s second half adjustments and the Cromwell’s sudden energy surge forced the visitors to change their game plan. Stonington’s in-game modifications proved to be futile as Cromwell outscored the visitors 30-10 over the final two quarters.
The win propels Cromwell into the third round of a Class M tournament for a home date with Lewis Mills. Maher said that she fully expects their court general, Appleby, to be back for Monday’s game. If Cromwell wins the third-round tilt, they will face the winner of Morgan and St. Josephs. Morgan is favored to beat St. Josephs, and if they do it would set up an epic fourth meeting between the conference-rival schools. Morgan dealt Cromwell their only loss this season, while Cromwell beat the Clinton-based school in the other two meetings, but only by a combined three points. The game would be played at a neutral site to be determined and tipoff for the potential classic would be Friday at 7 p.m.
Boys Basketball Tournament Roundup
Rocky Hill Achieves Goal of Making Class M Tournament
Rocky Hill Terriers guard Greg Marzilli said after a Jan 30th loss to E.O. Smith that the team still expected to reach the 8-win mark and make the tournament. Rocky Hill needed to win four of their final seven games in order to achieve that goal, and that’s exactly what they did.
Marzilli and his Terrier teammates now have the tall task of navigating their way through an ultra-competitive Class M tournament. Marzilli, Ahmed Hassaan, Benjamin Ciccaglione, and Tommy Seaver are the four seniors on Rocky Hill’s roster who are hoping to extend their high school careers in the win-or-go-home tournament.
If they can defeat Bullard-Haven Tech in Bridgeport, they will take on the winner of St. Paul and Woodland. If St. Paul wins, Rocky Hill will travel to Bristol, but if Woodland pulls the upset, the Terriers will host a tournament game on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Wethersfield is Tourney-Bound
The Wethersfield Eagles have had an up-and-down season. They started the season 3-1, but then lost five of their next six games. The Eagles wound up winning two of their final three games to ensure a spot in the Class L tournament.
Sharpe-shooting Ryan Peterson has paced Wethersfield offensively and all-around guards Jordan Manchester and Andrew Kelly have excelled on both ends of the court. Coach Brian Fanelli uses a deep rotation to keep his players fresh, which could be beneficial during the tournament.
The Eagles enter the tournament as the 25th seed and will travel to New Haven to face 8th seeded Wilber Cross in the opening round. If they can upset the New Haven-based school, they will take on the winner of Bunnell and St. Joseph.
Newington Last Team into the Class LL Tourney
The Newington Indians needed to win a play-in game to qualify for the Class LL tournament. They defeated Hall 53-47 in an emotional home game to earn them the 32nd seed and a date with the #1 seed Fairfield Prep in the opening round of the tournament.
The Indians have had an up-and-down season and are hoping that the last month of the season trends upwards. In order to make a tourney run they will rely on senior forward Marcus Guadarrama and phenomenal freshman guard Jared Simmons to lead the way.
If Newington does pull the shocking upset over Fairfield Prep, they will have an easier road the rest of the way. The Indians would next face the winner of East Hartford and Xavier, who were both inconsistent at times this season.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin