Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team had a pair of convincing victories this past week, yet the Nighthawks likely gained the most from their lone setback, despite a lopsided outcome.
The Nighthawks, following a 51-41 victory over visiting Kolbe Cathedral of Bridgeport on January 11, and a few days before a 45-16 triumph over visiting Joel Barlow of Redding on January 16, fell 67-37 to Saddle River Day School, from Saddle River, N.J., in a January 13 contest.
Not only did the Saddle River game serve as the focal point of a fundraiser for the Threes For Charity event, but it gave Newtown Coach Jeremy O’Connell’s team a tough challenge during what has been an otherwise mostly-easy start to the campaign. The Nighthawks, following the win over Barlow, stand at 9-3 overall.
“If we want to be a championship team we’ve got to compete in games like this,” O’Connell said after the Saddle River contest.
Nicki DaPra scored 15 points, hitting a trio of 3-pointers along the way, to lead Newtown.
The Nighthawks fell behind 40-17 at the half to the always tough New Jersey team, but was only outscored by seven points over the final two quarters.
“We know how good they are but we came out tentative,” O’Connell said. “In the second half we came out relaxed, played for fun, and we did well.”
In their previous game, the Nighthawks had all sorts of fun in the first two quarters, compiling 40 points by halftime before coasting to a 51-41 win over visiting Kolbe Cathedral of Bridgeport
“We hit every shot. We played the best half of basketball we’ve played in eight years,” O’Connell said.
DaPra led the way with 17 points, including two 3-pointers, and Cailin Wilson, who also sank a pair from downtown, scored 10. Amy Sapenter dropped in six, Rylee Mulligan and Cyleigh Wilson both had five, and Carolina Stubbs added four.
Against Barlow, Cyleigh Wilson scored 14, and DaPra and Sapenter each logged ten. The Hawks built a 23-10 halftime lead, held a 35-16 advantage after three quarters, and held Barlow scoreless in the fourth.
The efforts by Newtown and Saddle River have funded the outdoor basketball hoops at Sandy Hook School, and past money also went to New Jersey’s Richie Barton, who covered sports for years, when it was discovered he had bone cancer. The annual matchup/fundraiser continues and charities are to be determined, coaches said.
After the Sandy Hook shooting in December 2012, Saddle River Coach and Athletic Director Danny Brown made numerous calls to Newtown High School’s athletics office and coaches until then-Athletic Director Gregg Simon called back. Brown, after meeting with his team members, wanted to do something to help the Sandy Hook community.
“I went to practice a couple days after the tragedy and the kids looked lost,” Brown recalled. “That was a tough day. We canceled practice and sat around and talked.”
The Saddle River team has joined forces with Newtown High’s to raise money with no set beneficiary. Initially, players donated $3 for every 3-pointer made and it was called the Threes For Sandy Hook charity, but the fundraiser evolved into a collection from fans.
Throughout the years, girls’ youth teams have also become involved as part of a daylong event that has become known as Threes For Charity. On January 13, Newtown’s up-and-coming cagers took on youth squads from New Jersey. New Canaan filled in for one of the New Jersey teams that could not make the trip.
Athletes and coaches alike wear warm-up shirts with a logo of a heart overlapping a basketball and the words “Healing Through Sports.”
O’Connell notes that the players who were part of the original game have all graduated, but the tradition continues.
“Getting them to understand the significance and understand what Saddle River and their whole community means to us is very important,” O’Connell said.
Throughout the years, Newtown and Saddle River have alternated hosting games.
“Our relationship with Saddle River Day School and their community has been outstanding,” said Matt Murphy, assistant coach at Newtown High, and head coach of the fifth grade team.
The Newtown High girls get back to the court for a Friday, January 19, visit to Immaculate of Danbury, beginning at 7 pm.