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Girls’ Cagers Rolling Toward Postseason, But Seeking Improvement

Published: February 7, 2018

From a win-loss standpoint, not much has gone wrong for Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team, especially in South-West Conference play. The Nighthawks, with a 49-32 triumph over visiting Masuk of Monroe on Senior Night, February 2, and 29-27 edging of host New Milford on February 6, improved to 15-3 overall and 10-1 in SWC action.

Following the win over Masuk, Coach Jeremy O’Connell, however, saw some room for improvement.

“We haven’t played a full game yet. As we get into the last part of the season and into the playoffs we can’t play two quarters and expect to win,” O’Connell said after his team escaped with a 20-17 halftime lead before putting together a strong second half on its way to the win over Masuk.

There were six lead changes in the first half. Down 16-15, Newtown got the next five points as Kira Smith capitalized with a hoop after Jackie Matthews dove to the floor to keep the ball in Newtown’s possession, and Carlie Smith hit a 3-pointer. The Nighthawks never looked back.

The Hawks nearly doubled their first-half point total about six and a half minutes into the third quarter, putting up 18 points in the stanza for a 38-26 lead after three.

Kira Smith opened the second-half scoring with two points, and Rylee Mulligan’s poke-away of a midcourt inbound led to an Amy Sapenter foul line area pull-up jumper for a 24-17 lead. Nicki DaPra’s 3-pointer from the right elbow extended the lead to 27-17. Sapenter took a long pass from Mulligan for a 3-point play the old-fashioned way, making a basket and subsequent free throw.

The 10-0 run to start the half made it 30-17 Hawks 3:07 out of the break, and Newtown cruised from there.

“In the second half they stepped it up,” O’Connell said. “When we get on a roll and start hitting shots we can be pretty good.”

The success on offense stemmed from strong play on defense and an ability to run the floor and score in transition — Newtown’s trademark.

“We played really good defense and it dictated everything,” O’Connell said.

“I think we knew we had to come out strong. We just did what we had to do to shut them down,” Kira Smith said of Newtown’s second-half improvement.

She played a big part in Newtown’s seizing control, scoring eight of her ten points after halftime.

DaPra led Newtown with 14 points. Mulligan scored seven, Carlie Smith and Sapenter each dropped in five, and Matthews added four.

Mulligan matched her point total with seven assists, pulled down five rebounds, and came away with three steals. Kira Smith grabbed 12 rebounds for a double-double, and also had a pair of assists, as well as two steals. DaPra drained four of Newtown’s seven 3-pointers.

The win over Masuk marked the second consecutive game in which the Hawks held their opponent to single digits in all four quarters, previously doing so on the way to a 41-20 triumph over New Fairfield.

Newtown has held opponents to 32 or fewer points 11 times this campaign.

“I think we’re a strong contender for the SWC championship. We just keep getting better and better as the season goes on,” Kira Smith said.

The Hawks have two tough tests ahead as they close out the regular slate. On Friday, February 9, NHS visits Pomperaug of Southbury, which beat Newtown back in December. Newtown hosts Notre Dame-Fairfield (unbeaten in the SWC) on Tuesday, February 13. Both contests tip off at 7 pm. The conference playoffs will begin on Friday, February 16.

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