Rocky Hill’s #14 Kate Oostendorp defends Bassick’s Natae Campbell, while #12 Alyssa Gau guards Jazmin Williams during the Terriers state tournament win at Rocky Hill High School on Feb. 27.
The four seniors on the Rocky hill girls’ basketball team played together for the final time at RHHS, earning a 68-27 win over Bassick in the opening round of the Class MM state tournament last Monday night.
Kate Oostendorp, Alyssa Gau, Christina DeNovellis, and Abi Boutin—all team captains—walked off the home court for the final time after four seasons in which they have helped transform the program back into contenders.
Playing an unfamiliar opponent in Bridgeport-based Lions of Bassick High School, the Terriers used crisp ball movement and a smothering press defense to jump out to an early lead and never look back.
“We wanted to come out and get on top of them early,” said third-year head coach James McKinnon. “Our press is relentless and we wanted to put the pressure on them and force them to play faster than they wanted to.”
On the Terriers first trip down the court, freshman Kelsey LaMay scored before Gau stole a pass and converted a layup.
DeNovellis then scored in transition following a perfect lead pass from Oostendorp, making the score 6-0 within the first minutes of the game.
“We always play so much better in our home gym with our fans. It’s a much better atmosphere” said Oostendorp. “I think it helps the whole team get really pumped up and helps with morale.”
DeNovellis said that the players get energy from the home court fans, adding, “Everyone on this team is involved. No matter who is in the game, the whole team is cheering for them.”
LaMay finished the tourney contest with a game-high 14 points. She starred on both ends of the court, also registering six steals and grabbing a handful of rebounds.
McKinnon said his first-year point guard had her two best practices of the year in the days leading up to the tournament game, which translated to the game.
“Kelsey was unbelievable tonight; she is a fearless player,” added McKinnon. “She is a warrior and she played like that tonight.”
McKinnon was also impressed with the team’s defensive pressure, particularly how they got into passing lanes.
He praised Oostendorp, who has three steals, for her defense on Bassick’s standout junior Natae Campbell. Campbell was held to five points, none coming after the first quarter.
Oostendorp also delivered offensively, scoring four straight points to put the Terriers up 11-2 lead midway through the first quarter.
Gau closed the opening quarter by canning a triple from the baseline with an assist from LaMay.
Starting quickly was important for the Terriers who were playing their first home tournament game under McKinnon and
considering the game time was moved up because of the incoming snow storm that occurred later that night.
“It was really nice to get our nerves out. We were so excited the entire day, we couldn’t wait for the game,” stated Gau. “We just wanted to get out here and play our best.”
After Bassick scored to start the second quarter—narrowing the gap to 16-10—Rocky Hill went on an 11-0 scoring run, leading to a 25-point quarter, ballooning the advantage to 41-15 at the half.
Freshman Katie Harding scored seven of her 13 points during the second-quarter scoring barrage.
DeNovellis said it’s been rewarding to watch Harding and LaMay during their first year on the high school courts.
“Honestly it has been great to watch them grow,” added DeNovellis, who stars on the low block with Harding. “I feel like we’re all more comfortable on the court and all of [the seniors] have supported them.”
With a large halftime lead, the seniors played sparingly in the second half and McKinnon was able to have them exit the game together after DeNovellis delivered a perfect bounce ball to Harding for the layup, putting the home team up 59-27 with 4:21 left in regulation.
Boutin said the best part of the senior’s time at RHHS was “creating that bond with each other and creating that friendship.”
Several of the team’s future stars shine in the second half.
Along with LaMay and Harding doing their normal damage, fellow freshman Madisyn Aurigemma scored eight points. It was an extra special night for Aurigemma, who was celebrating her birthday and was surprised by her teammates, who collectively sang “Happy Birthday” to her following the conclusion of the game.
Junior Faith Belliveau also added eight points, all in the second half, and sophomore Angelina Daly scored six and had several pinpoint assists over the final 16 minutes.
But the home finale was about the departing seniors. When they were freshmen, the team won only three games and then the foursome endured the restrictions of the Covid-19 condensed season as sophomores during McKinnon’s first year with the team.
Over the last two years the team won 25 games, including 14 total games this winter.
The 14 wins are the most for the program since the team made the state semifinals in 2017-2018.
Oostendorp said the best part about the team was “how much they cared about each other.”
“It’s cliché to say this team is a family, but it really is,” stated Oostendorp. “We all hang out so much, and being at practice for two and half hour every night we’ve all bonded so much and that bond has a allowed us to be that successful.”
Gau added, “We’ve played together since middle school, so it’s amazing to see each other grow throughout the years.”
The No. 14 seed Terriers tourney run came to an end when they fell to No. 3-seed Sheehan in Wallingford 49-37 on March 2.
Aurigemma led the way with 14 points, five rebounds, and three steals in the loss.
It marked the end of the season for the Terriers and the end of the roundball road for the four influential seniors.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin