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Note: This is an expanded version of the coverage of Newtown in the state playoffs that was posted to our website March 1 and March 5.
Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team nearly dug itself out of a 16-point deficit after three quarters of play, ultimately falling 40-33 at Trumbull High in the quarterfinals of the Class LL state tournament, on March 5.
The sixth-seeded Nighthawks trailed 23-17 at the half and 36-20 after three quarters of play. They went on an 11-0 run to begin the final period to make it a five-point game, and had possession with a chance to get closer. No. 3 Trumbull, this year’s FCIAC champion and defending state runner-up, fought off a tenacious Nighthawk squad to advance to the semis.
Amy Sapenter scored 11 points for Newtown. Rylee Mulligan and Carlie Smith added six and five, respectively.
Sapenter opened the fourth-quarter scoring, and Smith followed with a 3-pointer to make it 36-25. Newtown had four possessions to try to get closer before Mulligan’s baseline drive for two finally got the lead back to single digits at 36-27 with 3:50 to play.
Mulligan’s drive to the rim made it a seven-point game less than a minute later, and Sapenter’s outside jumper capped the run.
Trumbull got its first points of the final period with 1:30 left. Newtown’s Ali Kelleher answered the Trumbull hoop just ten seconds later, making it 38-33.
Newtown’s strong defense and tight marking forced the Eagles to burn timeouts and eventually turn the ball over on a five-second inbound violation, but the Hawks couldn’t capitalize.
“We couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn in the second and third quarters,” said Newtown Coach Jeremy O’Connell, whose team’s scoring woes limited it to a combined eight points in the second and third periods, during which the Eagles poured in 25 to seize their big advantage.
The Nighthawks did not give up, and O’Connell was proud of the effort.
“It just shows the fire and passion that they have,” the coach said. “We just couldn’t get over that next hump.”
Hawks Ride Second-Quarter Run To Second Round Triumph
The Nighthawks outscored visiting and 11th-seeded Hamden, one of the top teams in the Southern Connecticut Conference, by 16 points in the second quarter to pull away en route to a 56-39 triumph in the second round of the tournament, on March 1.
“We did all the little things we needed to do,” O’Connell said. “We hit some big-time shots when we needed to.”
Cyleigh Wilson scored 15 of her 16 points in the first half, including nine on a trio of 3-pointers in a game-changing second stanza.
The game was even at 16 apiece after one quarter of play. Newtown went on a 20-3 run in the second period to claim a 36-19 halftime lead. It was 49-31 after three quarters.
Mulligan had 15 points for NHS. Jackie Matthews and Nicki DaPra added seven apiece.
Sapenter’s 3-point play the old-fashioned way opened the second-quarter scoring and sparked a 9-0 run to begin the stanza. Carolina Stubbs scored down low, Mulligan banked one in off the glass, and Sapenter’s jumper staked Newtown to a 25-16 lead with 3:20 to play in the half. Hamden’s first points, and only field goal of the quarter, came just under five minutes into the period, and were answered quickly by Wilson’s first shot among the three she hit from downtown in the final three minutes before the break. Kira Smith added a put-back at the buzzer.
Newtown players hustled for loose balls and forced tie-ups to gain possession on their way to stretching out the lead.
“It is the epitome of a team. Each one of these kids comes in and does something every single night, and that’s why it is so fun,” O’Connell said following the Hamden game.
The Nighthawks posted a 17-3 regular season record, won the regular-season SWC title, and reached the South-West Conference tournament semifinals.
Following the season-ending defeat at the hands of Trumbull, O’Connell commented: “All year I have been so proud of these girls.”