Pictured: Coginchaug’s Amalia DeMartino squares up on T-Birds point guard Erica Piercey during Friday’s Shoreline game in Durham.
By Marc Silvestrini
DURHAM — December wasn’t very kind to the Coginchaug girls basketball team.
The Lady Devils finished the first month of the season with a 1-3 record, including a five-point loss on the road to Shoreline Conference rival Valley Regional and holiday tournament losses to two larger schools, Farmington and North Haven, with the latter loss coming by a single point.
So Friday night’s game at home against another tough Shoreline foe was an important test for the slow-starting Devils.
And thanks to a stellar third-quarter performance and a huge defensive effort throughout most of the game, Coginchaug passed its test in style, scoring a 48-35 decision over the Thunderbirds.
Junior Jessica Berens led all scorers with 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as Coginchaug improved to 2-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play. North Branford slips to 2-2, both on the season and in the conference.
“That third quarter was the best eight minutes of basketball we’ve played all year,” Coginchaug coach Chris Watson said. ”Everything seemed to come together for us in that quarter. We did everything the way we’re supposed to — defense, rebounding, looking for good shots on offense … It was a very solid effort.”
Coginchaug, which played a strong defensive game from the opening tap, stealing the ball and forcing a good number of turnovers with its tough pressure defense, got seven points from All-Shoreline center Berens, four from Raegan Moore and a pretty runner from Maura Zettergren to grab a 13-9 lead after the first eight minutes of play.
But North Branford point guard Erica Piercey scored five of the first six points in the second quarter to pull the T-Birds even at 14 apiece with just under five minutes to go in the half. Coginchaug, however, scored four of the next six to take an 18-16 heading into the final 90 seconds of the half.
From there, Coginchaug’s Amalia DeMartino, who played a strong defensive game from start to finish, made two great plays on offense within 45 seconds of each other — an off-balance feed to Moore for a layup and a feed through heavy traffic to Berens for another layup that extended the Devils’ lead to 22-16.
Berens then closed the half with yet another layup off an inbounds play with nine seconds to play to give the Devils a 24-16 halftime lead.
Then came the third quarter.
Coginchaug’s Kerry Turecek, who had been held scoreless in the first half, exploded early in the quarter. She scored on a drive in the opening seconds, hitting a long 3-pointer 30 seconds later, and then another 3-point bomb about midway through the quarter. Turecek’s outburst, plus four points from Berens, enabled the Lady Devils to outscore the T-Birds 14-4 in the quarter and race to a 38-20 lead after three.
“I didn’t warm up before the game as much as I should have,” Turecek said. “I didn’t feel quite right, I felt just a little bit off early in the game. But the second half was a different story. It all came together pretty good once the second half started.”
When asked if she thought the team had shaken its early-season inertia and was now heading in the right direction, she said: “I think we’re starting to put it together now. I really think we’re making progress.”
A mighty effort by North Branford sophomore center Braeden LeBeau, who scored nine of the final quarter’s first 13 points, helped the T-Birds slice the deficit to 14 points, at 43-29, with 5:44 remaining, but two buckets by Berens and another by Turecek enabled the Devils to extend their lead back to 18, at 48-30, with three minutes to play.
Three free throws by LeBeau and two from Piercey enabled the T-Birds to score the game’s final five points to set the final margin at 13.
“I was pleased with the effort we showed on defense tonight. I thought we played with some effort and determination and left it all out there on the floor,” Watson said, specifically citing the job DeMartino and Alyssa Woodward did in limiting Piercey, a good shooter and excellent penetrator, to 13 points.
Turecek and Moore finished with 10 points apiece for Coginchaug. LeBeau led the T-Birds with 15 on the night, including 12 in the final quarter, while Piercey chipped in with 13.
“Our big problem tonight was that we couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” North Branford coach Courtney Manciero said. “We just didn’t get very many good looks. They played a pretty good game on defense, especially against our two best players.
“And,” she added after glancing at the score book, “that third quarter was just terrible.”
Coginchaug, which played the first of three games in a four-day stretch Friday night, will travel to Westbrook on Saturday before hosting Morgan on Monday.
North Branford will hit the road at the beginning of next week for a pair of tough games. On Monday, the T-Birds will travel to New Haven for a game against Amistad, and on Wednesday they visit Branford.
NORTH BRANFORD (35)
Briana Dautaj 0 1 1, Braeden LeBeau 4 7 15, Erica Piercey 2 9 13, Avonlea LeBeau 0 0 0, Lily Blomster 0 2 2, Marissa Ricardo 0 0 0, Julia Cassista 0 0 0, Julia Ricardo 2 0 4, Hanna Senerchia 0 0 0. Totals: 8 19 35.
Raegan Moore 3 4 10, Jessica Berens 8 4 20, Molly Shields 0 0 0, Kerry Turecek 4 0 10, Amalia DeMartino 0 0 0, Samantha Mancini 0 0 0, Maura Zettergren 1 1 3, Alyssa Woodward 0 0 0, Taylor McDermott 1 2 5. Totals: 17 11 48.
Score By Quarters
NB 9 7 4 15—35
C 13 11 14 10—48
3-Pointers: C—Turecek 2, McDermott 1.
Records: North Branford 2-2, 2-2; Coginchaug 2-3, 2-1.