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Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team defeated visiting Notre Dame-Fairfield 40-35 in the February 12 regular-season finale. It was Notre Dame’s first loss in South-West Conference play, and gave the Nighthawks the top seed in the SWC tournament, which begins on Friday, February 16, when No. 8 Immaculate of Danbury visits for a 7 pm game.
The Nighthawks were coming off an impressive 61-25 win against host Pomperaug of Southbury, bouncing back from their 47-36 loss to Pomperaug in December. Newtown’s success came early as the Hawks jumped out to a 22-12 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 40-15 lead at halftime. The game featured solid offensive performances from Nicki DaPra, who had 14 points, Riley Mulligan with 13, and Cyleigh Wilson with 11.
“We played the perfect game for us; we came out strong, we knew what we needed to do, and were able to execute everything from the beginning,” Newtown Coach Jeremy O’Connell said.
Handing Pomperaug its third SWC loss provided a confidence booster for Newtown, which looked to carry the momentum into the game against Notre Dame. However, the momentum seemed to dampen from the start after Notre Dame won the tip-off and jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first five minutes.
With 3:11 left in the first quarter Mulligan made a layup to get Newtown on the board and Newtown did the rest of the scoring in the quarter. It was 6-5 Lancers at the end of one quarter.
Kira Smith drew a charge 26 seconds into the second, leading to a basket that put Newtown ahead 7-6 on the next possession. After the teams traded baskets, Notre Dame pulled ahead, ending the second quarter with a 17-12 lead.
The scoring trade-off continued throughout the third quarter, ending with DaPra’s basket in the last 12 seconds, bringing Newtown within six points at 28-22 going into the fourth quarter.
Newtown got to work in the fourth with Wilson drawing a foul three seconds into the quarter. She made one of two free throws, making it a five point game. After Newtown and Notre Dame traded a few more baskets, Amy Sapenter knocked down a pivotal three-pointer with 4:02 left to bring the score to 33-28.
Newtown forced a backcourt violation 30 seconds later, leading to a 3-pointer by Cailin Wilson to make it a two-point game. Cailin Wilson played her part on the defensive end as well, getting a rebound that set up Mulligan to put Newtown ahead, 34-33.
Notre Dame struck back, though, making a basket to put the Lancers in front once more. Smith responded immediately, scoring the go-ahead layup. From there, Newtown was able to close out the game with clutch free throws and a stellar defensive performance, keeping Notre Dame from scoring for the rest of the game.
Mulligan contributed to the 40-35 win with 12 points, and Sapenter and Dapra each had seven.
The Lancers fell to 16-4 and 12-1 in SWC play, and the Hawks boosted themselves to a 12-1 SWC record and 17-3 overall record.
O’Connell was pleased with his team’s performance against Notre Dame, especially after the slow start.
“We couldn’t finish at first, but when we did the confidence lit up and we rolled. We had kept it within striking distance the whole time, and we knew we had a chance,” O’Connell said.
The Nighthawks will look to continue their nine-game winning streak throughout the playoffs. The winner of Friday’s quarterfinal game between Newtown and Immaculate will play in the semifinals on Monday, February 19, at 7 pm.
“We need to improve on a lot of little things. In the playoffs, everything is magnified ten times,” O’Connell said.