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By Kim J. Harmon
MONROE â€“ Morgan Haines scored just two baskets, but they were two of the most important baskets of the game.
The Newtown High School girls’ basketball team was struggling through a tough, tough game with Trumbull in the finals of the annual Masuk Holiday Tournament and was on the low end of an 11-10 score late in the second period (yes, the second period) when Haines popped in her first bucket of the game â€“ a three-pointer that forced the final lead change of the game.
For Trumbull â€“ coached by former Newtown High School assistant, Ken Good â€“ that basket hurt.
But the next one was worse.
After Ally Gellert popped in a three-pointer of her own to put the ‘Hawks ahead, 16-11, Haines all but sucked the life out of the Lady Eagles with her second three-pointer. Especially since Haines had gotten an inbounds pass out on the rim, picked up her dribble, found nowhere to pass, and thenÂ – as a last resort â€“ squared up and shot the ball.
The ‘Hawks led 19-11 at that point and never saw their lead â€“ even after Trumbull center Jessica Steeves got warmed up in the third quarter â€“ dip below three points the rest of the way.
Newtown earned the win, 48-34, and took home its second consecutive Masuk Holiday Tournament championship.
Trumbull (5-1, 4-0 in the FCIAC) presented a new challenge for Newtown, for the Lady Eagles – with Steeves in the middle â€“ boasted a formidable inside presence. Sure, even though the ‘Hawks had eaten Warren Harding (which didn’t even challenge the opening tip-off) alive in the low post in the opening round of the tournament, they knew things would be much, much different in the tournament final.
“Obviously, the height differential was a big thing,” said senior tri-captain Lori Iwanicki. “We were a little mismatched down low and we knew we had to put a lot of emphasis on boxing out.”
But despite the presence of Steeves (who has signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Canisius University in the MAAC Conference), the ‘Hawks did an admirable job inside. Senior center Lisa Masella, who was so dominant against Harding (22 points), held her own against a bigger, stronger opponent â€“ while Iwanicki, Stephanie Logan and Shannon Kohn all made contributions.
It was not a particularly good shooting night â€“ not for either team â€“ but that was more a product of aggressive defensive play at both ends of the floor than a jaundiced shooting eye. The ‘Hawks made 16 steals on the night, with Gellert and Haines registering three apiece, and that’s what did the trick.
“Our offense was feeding off the defense all night,” said Iwanicki, who tossed in seven points on the night.
Iwanicki gave the ‘Hawks the initial lead in the game, 1-0, with a free throw â€“ but the Lady Eagles soon took a 4-1 lead on a three-point basket from the corner. Masella added a bucket in the post and Gellert canned her first three of the game and the ‘Hawks had taken the lead back, 6-4.
The two teams struggled for good looks at the basket and found very few. Once the ball snaked it way inside the lane or to the low post (Kelley Haines had a pair of magnificent passes later in the game that helped Newtown get behind Steeves), it became an even bigger struggle.
Early in the second quarter, the Lady Eagles took their last lead of the game, 11-10, on short jumper.
Then came the threes â€“ from Morgan Haines, Gellert, and then Haines again which changed the entire face of the game.
With the ‘Hawks up 19-11 opening the third quarter, Steeves finally became a bigger factor in the game. Some strong moves in the paint gave her three baskets and a pair of free throws, but the Lady Eagles only got as close as three points and ended up trading the ‘Hawks 12 points for 12 others in the third quarter and gained no ground.
Kelley Haines, Gellert, Lori Iwanicki and Julie Iwanicki all had baskets in the period. Masella, Kohn and Julie Iwanicki also chipped in with some free throws as the ‘Hawks maintained a 31-23 lead by the close of the third.
At the start of the fourth, Logan made a strong move in the post (aided by a beautiful pass from Haines) to put the ‘Hawks up by 10. Newtown and Trumbull spent the next few minutes trading points â€“ until a basket by Masella and a free throw by Morgan Haines gave the ‘Hawks their biggest lead of the game, 44-31, with less than a minute to go.
All that was left for Trumbull was a three-pointer from the top of the key with 53.7 seconds left. From that point, it turned into a parade to the free throw line for Newtown â€“ with Kelley and Morgan Haines chipping in with one toss apiece.
Masella finished the Lady Eagles off with 8.1 seconds remaining with one final basket.
The win boosted Newtown’s record to 6-1 overall, 3-0 in the South-West Conference.
In an impressive 81-41 win over Warren Harding to open the tournament, Masella canned 22 points to lead all scorers. Julie Iwanicki chipped in with 13 and Lori Iwanicki added 10.
Eleven different players scored in the game. Kohn had nine, Gellert and Morgan Haines had six, Kelley Haines and Ashley Larocque had four each, Jacky Curran and Logan had three each and Tori Filler had one.
And while the offense put up the staggering numbers, it was another splendid defensive effort, as well. Gellert made four steals in the first period alone as the ‘Hawks took a commanding 19-point lead.
The ‘Hawks will travel to Bridgeport on Friday to take on Kolbe-Cathedral and then will return home for a Tuesday, January 8, game against New Milford.
HardingÂ Â Â 10Â 10Â Â Â 9Â 12 – 41
NewtownÂ Â 29Â 13Â 16Â 23 – 81
HARDING (41): Chestnut 3 1-4 9, LeCLerc 1 0-0 3, Alleyne 4 1-2 11, J. Chestnut 1 0-0 2, Bentley 1 0-2 2, Kelly 0 0-0 0, Youngblood 2 0-0 4, Edgerton 0 0-0 0, Brown 4 0-0 8, S. Edgerton 0 0-0 0, Andwar 1 0-0 2, Bartelle 0 0-2 0. TOTALS: 17 2-10 41.
NEWTOWN (81): J. Iwanicki 4 5-6 13, Gellert 3 0-0 6, Logan 0 3-4 3, Kohn 4 1-5 9, M. Haines 2 2-2 6, Masella 9 4-6 22, Filler 0 1-2 1, L. Iwanicki 3 4-6 10, Curran 1 1-2 3, K. Haines 1 2-2 4, Larocque 2 0-0 4. TOTALS: 29 23-35 81.
Three-pointers: Chestnut (H) 2, LeClerc (H), Alleyne (H) 2.
TrumbullÂ Â Â 9Â Â Â 2Â 12Â 11 – 34
NewtownÂ Â 10Â Â Â 9Â 12Â 17 – 48
TRUMBULL (34): Boles 2 0-1 6, Werner 0 0-2 0, Steeves 3 5-6 11, Sorrentino 2 0-0 5, Caulfield 0 0-0 0, Espach 2 2-2 6, Collins 1 0-1 2, Gifford 2 0-0 4. TOTALS: 12 7-12 34.
NEWTOWN (48): Gellert 3 0-1 6, Masella 3 3-6 9, John 0 2-2 2, M. Haines 2 2-4 8, L. Iwanicki 1 3-4 5, Logan 1 0-0 2, J. Iwanicki 2 1-1 5, K. Haines 3 3-5 9, Filler 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 15 14-23 48.
Three-pointers: Boles (T), Sorrentino (T), Gellert (N) 2, M. Haines (N) 2.