CROMWELL — Monday’s girls basketball game at Jake Salafia Gymnasium looked and sounded like the first of the season – for a young Cromwell team as well as a veteran Newtown squad.
Not a whole lot of sustained offensive flow. Turnovers in bunches and fouls by the dozens. Tired bodies sprawling to the floor and frustration visible on many faces.
And yet the Panthers, despite their own issues, were right there at the end, with senior guard Sadie Budzik’s 3-pointer putting them within four of the Nighthawks’ lead with 1:38 left on the clock.
It turned out to be Cromwell’s last field goal of the night. Newtown held on for a 54-46 victory.
Last year’s Shoreline Conference and Class M champions produced only two field goals and nine points in the fourth quarter.
“Something that we’ll learn from this game, knowing we’re really young right now, is recognition when to drive to the basket, where the ball should be, who should have the ball,” coach Kelly Maher said. “I think those are things we can take away from this.”
Cromwell’s starting five were seniors Budzik and Vanessa Stolstajner, junior Monica Dewey, sophomore Khaya Skene and freshman Nevaeh Clark, with the bench on this night amounting to two juniors and a freshman.
“In the beginning of the game our nerves showed,” said Stolstajner, who was held to 12 points, seven below her average from last season, while playing nearly all 32 minutes. “It’s kind of difficult this year with a really small bench. It was difficult on the floor because a lot of us were tired and we were trying to push through it.
“After halftime we improved with boxing out and moving the ball better and making better decisions. We just have to work on turnovers and gelling as a team.”
Even with all of that to chew on, Budzik’s long-range shot made it a 50-46 game down the stretch. When she tied up a Newtown player at the other end with 1:11 to go, the Panthers regained possession with a chance to cut the deficit to two or less.
Cromwell could not cash in.
Stolstajner missed a wild shot from 12 feet and Skene was called for a foul going for the rebound. The Panthers’ remaining possessions resulted in a turnover and two more missed attempts. Newtown helped itself by getting two offensive rebounds in the final 45 seconds and made 4 of 6 free throws to seal the win.
Newtown, a Class LL program to Cromwell’s M, beat the Panthers by eight at home last season.
“Tonight, coming to Cromwell, where they are super well-coached, a great team, a great program, on the road, and getting the victory? I’ll take it,” Newtown coach Jeremy O’Connell said. “We want to play quality opponents and they are always quality.”
Cyleigh Wilson scored a game-high 19 points for Newtown and added six assists and five rebounds. Amy Sapenter added eight points. O’Connell had four seniors and a junior in his starting five, with five fresh sets of legs off the bench.
“With the 10 we have, they know they are going to be called upon throughout the game,” O’Connell said. “We have quality kids to come in and play quality minutes when it’s needed without reservation.”
Stolstajner had to work like crazy to get the few opens looks she had.
“What we have used the last couple of years is we’ll put one kid on the other team’s best player and just face-guard, and make other kids beat us,” O’Connell said. “We ran four different girls at her, so our kids weren’t tired guarding her. I thought that was very beneficial for us.”
“It was difficult for me,” Stolstajner said. “I was being face guarded really well. It was hard to break down the defense and we couldn’t get many shots off.”
Budzik and Clark finished with 11 points each for Cromwell.
Newtown took an 18-10 lead after one quarter as Wilson buried three 3-pointers and the Nighthawks’ full-court traps forced several turnovers.
Cromwell fell behind by 11 early in the second quarter before whittling the deficit to six (23-17) on a Dewey lay-up. Newtown led by nine at the break. Although the Panthers played better on the defensive end in the third quarter, they did not make up any ground and trailed by nine after three.
“I was happy with the way we were able to battle back late and get it to within four,” Maher said. “We just have to make better decisions and play consistently for 32 minutes. We made a lot of adjustments during the second half, but a lot of what happened during the first half — too many (second-chance points for Newtown), too many turnovers — ended up costing us in the end. But we’ll learn from it.”
Amy Sapenter 3 1 8, Cyleigh Wilson 6 3 19, Carlie Smith 3 0 6, Juliette Cryder 1 0 2, Shea Murphy 0 3 3, Chloe O’Connell 1 0 2, Rebecca Alicea 2 2 6, Emma Magazu 0 0 0, Allie Bradley 1 0 2, Julia Gerace 1 4 6. Totals: 18 13 54.
Sadie Budzik 4 2 11, Khaya Skene 2 1 5, Nevaeh Clark 3 4 11, Monica Dewey 3 1 7, Vanessa Stolstajner 2 8 12, Erica Dewey 0 0 0, Adela Cecunjanin 0 0 0, Likita Chanda 0 0 0. Totals: 14 16 46.
Score By Quarters
3-Pointers: N—Wilson 4, Sapenter 1; C—Budzik 1, Clark 1.
Records: Newtown 1-0; Cromwell 0-1.
If Cromwell High is closed on Tuesday, the Panthers will face Wednesday’s opponent (Pomperaug, in Southbury) without getting in a practice. Pomperaug opened the season with a 44-40 loss at Danbury on Monday.
Star Of The Game
Newtown guard Cyleigh Wilson. The senior spotted up in the first quarter with three 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 19 points, to go with six assists and five rebounds.
Stolstajner The Scorer
Vanessa Stolstajner was recognized in pregame for becoming a 1,000-point scorer. The senior hit the mark last March in an early-round state tournament. She received a commemorative basketball, and her name now adorns a banner inside the gym that notes upwards of 20 Panther 1,000-point scorers.
“It’s nice,” she said. “but it happened last year. I’m more concerned about the season now.”
2 Freshmen Make Varsity Debuts
Let the record show that freshman Neveah Clark, a left-hander who plays big and can handle the ball, scored her first varsity bucket after clearing out her defender for an offensive rebound 2:12 into the game. Clark finished with 11 points and 9 rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. She played 26-plus minutes.
“I think Neveah did really well,” Stolstajner said. “I know if I started as a freshman, I’d be so nervous. Her fouls were understandable, I think. She can work on that.”
Meanwhile, Adela Cecunjanin played nearly 22 minutes and finished with 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal.