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Despite being seeded 13th and going on the road to face No. 4 Middletown in the Class LL State Tournament’s second round, Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team came oh-so-close to pulling off the upset, on March 3, and continuing its season. The Nighthawks fell 69-58 in overtime after a waning-seconds shot was off the mark.
All season long, Coach Jeremy O’Connell has challenged his mostly young squad to put together a solid 32 minutes of game play. The Nighthawks got better as the season unfolded and the Hawks, with their season on the line in the Middletown game, had their best 32-minute effort of the campaign, O’Connell said.
“It was the most complete game we played all year,” said O’Connell, adding that ironically, the team needed 36 minutes of crisp play to get the job done.
Newtown trailed for most of the game before outscoring its opponent 12-6 in the final quarter, taking a late two-point lead in the process, then being held to just a couple of points in the four-minute OT.
“I’m not upset. I’m not disappointed. I’m disappointed we’re not continuing to play basketball. I’m not disappointed in them at all,” O’Connell said. “All you can ask for is a chance and we gave ourselves that.”
The Newtown coach said it has been a pleasure to work with this group so much that “they’ve really rejuvenated me as a coach.”
This season has served as a positive stepping stone for potential continued success given the 17-7 overall record, including a trip to the South-West Conference Tournament semifinals, and the makeup of the group. Newtown was carried, in large part, by the play of underclassmen, including freshman Cyleigh Wilson, who sank a team record-tying six 3-pointers in the Middletown game.
Only two seniors will be lost to graduation — Natalie Shaker and Olyvia Shaw — but those are substantial losses given they, along with junior Rylee Mulligan, were captains and led the team on and off the court, the coach said.
“They showed great leadership throughout everything,” O’Connell noted. “They will definitely be missed.”
The Nighthawks, even despite seemingly always leaving room for improvement in the eyes of their coach, put together a campaign he was impressed with.
“We found ways to win and we had different kids step up at different times,” said O’Connell, noting that when the Hawks needed a defensive stop, a jump shot, a drive to the rim, or a rebound, somebody different would step up on a given night. “That’s the mark of a good team.”
In the Middletown game, Wilson, behind her 3-point barrage, led Newtown with 20 points, Nicki DaPra hit two 3-pointers and scored 11, Shaw dropped in eight, Mulligan had seven, Kira Smith scored six, Jackie Matthews scored four, and Cailin Wilson added two. Shaw and Kira Smith both pulled down ten rebounds.