MILFORD — A late-game comeback effort by Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team to earn a win in the South-West Conference Tournament opener was stolen away by Kolbe Cathedral of Bridgeport on February 18.
The fourth-seeded Cougars came up with two late-game steals, among their 16 in the contest, to fend off the No. 5 Nighthawks, 49-46, in a hard-fought SWC quarterfinal round clash at top seed Lauralton Hall’s gymnasium.
After Newtown got a nine-point deficit down to one with less than a minute to play, the Cougars came up with a pair of takeaways in the final half-minute — one which led to a basket and a 49-46 lead and another which allowed them to run out the clock.
Players dove to the floor for loose balls, and there was no shortage of effort by either side in this gritty, physical-at-times game.
“It’s playoff time and it’s win or go home so you always expect a good game — especially against Newtown,” said Kolbe Coach Lisa Hodges, whose team defeated NHS by four points in a regular-season clash.
Erin Kenning scored 15 points, Bridget Power had 13, and Cassie Ekstrom dropped in nine to lead the Nighthawks. Kolbe got 12 from Jasmyne Fogle, 10 from Kiara Epps, and eight from Niajeha Green.
Despite the loss, Newtown Coach Jeremy O’Connell was more than pleased with the effort his team put forth.
“I told the girls when we went [into the locker room] that I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud to coach a team as I was tonight. The fact that we went down early, we got into some foul trouble, we had some injuries — they fought back with intensity and they were passionate, and they played together,” O’Connell said. “I was so proud. Every kid that went in did what we needed them to do and we got to the point where we had a shot to win. And, in any game, that’s all you can ever ask for.”
Sarah Lynch, after hurting her ankle and missing much of the opening half, proved to be a big factor in Newtown’s getting a chance to win it at the end. She drew a late-game charge on a Kolbe ball handler, and later went hard to the floor to pull a ball away from an opponent, leading to an NHS hoop.
Down 44-36, the Hawks pulled to within five on a Lynch 3-pointer with 4:46 to play. Maddy Good forced a held ball on the defensive end, giving NHS possession. Lynch drew a foul and missed the front end of a one and one opportunity at the line, but Good hustled to get to the rebound and got the ball to Kenning, who was fouled and drained both shots, It was 45-41 with 2:25 to play.
Fogle made a pair of foul shots with 1:52 left, restoring Kolbe’s six-point cushion. Just 11 seconds later, Kenning buried a 3-pointer from the corner, making it 47-44.
Power drove to the rim and scored despite a foul, cutting the Kolbe lead to 47-44 with 54.2 seconds showing on the scoreboard clock. She missed the free throw, but Good got to yet another rebound, and Newtown called timeout. After an Ekstrom shot wouldn’t fall, Lynch dove to the floor and got the ball before a Kolbe player could gain full control, giving NHS a chance to take a lead in the waning seconds.
The Cougars, who were opportunistic and intercepted passes to thwart multiple Newtown possessions, came away with those two late steals to seal the win.
“Did it go our way? No, but I am so proud of these girls,” O’Connell said. “Earlier in the season I don’t know if we would have come back. It just shows how the maturity, the love, the passion of this team has come together at the right time. So I’m very proud to be their coach.”
Last year, the Nighthawks lost in the first round of the SWC tourney then went on to win a state championship.
“Hopefully we can regroup and put together the same kind of run,” said O’Connell, whose team will get back to game action in the Class LL play this coming week.